This movie doesn't sound all that good or very appealing. I mean, a chess drama starring, of all people, Cuba Gooding Jr.? But while this really isn't a great or very memorable movie by any means, it surprisingly enough isn't a terrible one either. As a matter of fact, it's quite good and cute to watch in some ways.
It's a perfectly fine and watchable little movie really. The story isn't the best or most engaging but it still has some good and surprisingly effective themes in it. It's a drama that works on most levels, without ever becoming too melodramatic or unconvincing with anything.
This easily could have turned into a very clichéd movie, in which everybody was against the chess program for no good reason and the Cuba Gooding Jr. character and the 'kids' had to fight for acceptance and the chance to play chess. But no, the movie is luckily too humble to ever exaggerate too much with anything. The movie therefor also feels less formulaic than it sounds and looks.
Chess as a metaphor for life, in an urban neighborhood. It sounds stupid and pretentious but this movie actually makes it work. Like I said, it's all mostly because the movie doesn't exaggerate or forces any of the drama. The story doesn't only work out better and more convincing because of this but also all of the characters. Suddenly it becomes somewhat realistic and convincing that a bunch of 'thugs' start playing chess and better their life, all thanks to Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character lessons and the inspiration he brings.
While watching this movie it also becomes obvious once more that Cuba Gooding Jr. definitely belongs in dramas. It really are all of the bad and silly comedies and cheap actions flicks that gave him a bad name and ran his career into the ground. But he is an Oscar winner for a good reason of course. He's simply good at doing more dramatic stuff, when given the right opportunity and material to work with of course.
There are still some needless distractions in the movie and story and not everything works out quite the way as intended. Some characters easily could have been left out for instance, to keep the story tighter, better flowing and more focused. But really, the movie never strays off too far, so it never becomes too much of an issue.
Nothing too great or powerful but it's simply still one fine and perfectly watchable, sweet, little drama, without any melodrama or too too many formulaic moments in it.