I asked a friend who knows more about football than I do to name a position that's solid enough for support but not essential, in which the player isn't the most famous or most loved. That seems a fitting position for The Express, and according to my friend, that makes it the weak side safety of football movies.

I asked a friend who knows more about football than I do to name a position that's solid enough for support but not essential, in which the player isn't the most famous or most loved. That seems a fitting position for The Express, and according to my friend, that makes it the weak side safety of football movies.

Ironically, Gary Fleder's film tells the true-life story of star running back Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the first African-American player to win the Heisman Trophy. Recruited to Syracuse University by exiting player Jim Brown (Darrin Dewitt Henson), who's coerced into glossing over the challenges Davis will face at the mostly white college by coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Dennis Quaid), Davis signs on to a team divided by color lines and a sports league that tolerates open, hostile racism.

Eventually Schwartzwalder argues with his black players for the respect due to them both on and off the field, with Quaid delivering another agreeable, lived-in performance and Davis making an appealing lead.

"The Express"

Opens Friday

GRADE: B-

But in Fleder's hands, their experiences feel less like passionately fought challenges and more like the necessary points to hit in an inspirational biopic. It's a good history lesson, but there's not much to make a person rise and cheer. --Melissa Starker