When Richard Mason (Ted Danson - Saving Private Ryan) is made unemployed from his well paid job, he decides to offer his services to a school in the South Bronx where the children have little hope of escaping from a life on the street. And it isn't easy as Richard struggles to connect with the children until one day one of them discovers him playing a series of exhibition chess games in the local park where he beats 14 players at once. Soon Richard is teaching the children chess and as a result their academic grades start to improve as they become good enough to enter the National chess competition.
Starring Ted Danson "Knights of the South Bronx" is another one of those inspirational school movies which are built around a true story. In the case of "Knights of the South Bronx" it is actually a made for TV movie rather than a cinematic release and is heavily fictionalised in telling the David MacEnulty's story. Like most inspirational school movies this one again follows the familiar route of an adult ending up teaching kids a few life lessons through their passion and to be honest it never strays from the path which all these other inspirational movies tend to follow. But where as in similar movies the object used to create inspiration has often been physical sports such as basketball or American football, even ballroom dancing in "Take the Lead", in "Knights of the South Bronx" the vehicle is Chess, an unlikely source for making an interesting movie, but one which works surprisingly well due to the nature of the game.
The trouble witg "Knights of the South Bronx" is some terrible dialogue and even being a made for TV movie doesn't excuse it. There are just far too many cliché speeches making a lot of what should be heart warming sentiment feel cheesy and slightly laughable. Even a fine actor would struggle when it comes to delivering such hollow words of wisdom that although have meaning feel as poorly scripted as they are.
Thankfully Ted Danson as Richard Mason manages to lift his performance so that although he has some terrible dialogue he manages to give the movie some feeling. You do get a sense that he is a man split between supporting his family and teaching these children, although thanks to that lack of back-story sometimes it feels like we never really know him. As for the remaining cast in particular the children, well their characters appear to be older than they should be seeing that they are meant to be fourth graders, but each of these young actors does a fine performance with the poor script.
What this all boils down to is that "Knights of the South Bronx" compared to a cinema release feels inadequate thanks to the poor dialogue and the more low level production values. But then it is a made for TV movie and in being so is surprisingly entertaining for what is a formula driven, inspirational movie.