Let’s face it, I knew going into watching The Longshots that I wasn’t the intended audience. I could have watched it alone and written a snarky review about how Ice Cube’s transformation from Earth’s most pissed-off rapper to most cuddly family film star is nearly complete, but I chose to watch it with my family.
My daughter, Sophie, is a big fan of Keke Palmer, star of Akeelah and the Bee and the hit Disney channel movie about double dutch jump roping, Jump In. I, too, have been impressed with the young Miss Palmer, who was able to hold her own in Akeelah and the Bee opposite two mighty actors, Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. I was also curious to see how well Fred Durst — yeah, that dude from Limp Bizkit — was able to direct a film. Throw in a supporting role by Garrett Morris, and people, I was ready to watch The Longshots.
The film is based on the true story of Jasmine Plummer, the first female quarterback ever to lead a team in the Pop Warner football tournament. In the film, Jasmine (Palmer) is a wallflower who keeps her nose buried in books and has no friends. Her divorced mother, Claire (Tasha Smith) implores her daughter to get involved in extracurricular activities, but Jasmine is happy keeping to herself. When Claire has to take on longer hours at the diner where she works, she reluctantly asks her brother-in-law, Curtis, to babysit his niece after school. Curtis (Ice Cube) is an out of work factory worker and former high school football star whose one shot out of the poor Louisiana town where they live was ruined when he screwed up his knee tripping on a street curb. Curtis wants nothing to do with his niece (partly from guilt, because her father is his deadbeat brother) and only agrees to watch Jasmine when Claire promises to pay him. It’s when Curtis and Jasmine come together that the film picks up the pace and become a little more interesting. Up until then, you have a lot of setup (and marginal direction from Durst).
Curtis is used to spending his afternoons behind the football field, watching the Pop Warner boys practice while he throws back large cans of Budweiser and hangs out with other out-of-work townies. One day, while goofing around, he asks Jasmine to throw a football to him and suddenly, lives are changed. The girl has a cannon for an arm.
Curtis takes Jasmine under his wing and teaches her the fine mechanics of being a quarterback and how to lead a team on the field. Soon thereafter, he convinces the boys’ football coach to let her try out. With nothing to lose (his team stinks), the coach (the reliable Matt Craven) lets her run a few plays. Of course, Jasmine makes the team, is placed on the bench and only gets into a game when the coach wants to shut up Curtis, heckling from the stands. Yes, Jasmine helps the team win their first game, and yes, she becomes the new starting quarterback. When the head coach suffers a mild heart attack, Curtis must be convinced to overcome his own fears to become an assistant coach on the team and help lead them to the Pop Warner Super Bowl.
As predictable as the movie was, I was impressed at how Durst (I never thought I’d utter that phrase) was able to make the two storylines (Jasmine’s growth and Curtis’ redemption) work together so seamlessly. Curtis and Jasmine start out in totally different places and their coming together felt natural within the confines of sports movie storytelling. Ice Cube has become a good actor and was not afraid to play Curtis rough around the edges (parents be forewarned, there is some salty language) even though this is clearly a family film. Moreover, as the film proceeds, he and Palmer develop a nice rapport that carries the film through its climax and satisfying ending. Palmer, for her part, starts off a little awkward, but grows into her role. She is particularly expressive with her eyes, doing a great job of acting without having to say anything. Her time on the set with Fishburne really seems to have influenced her. Although she currently stars in a Nickelodeon series (True Jackson, VP), Palmer has a great future in the movies.
Like I said, the movie is short on anything revelatory as far as filmmaking and storytelling is concerned. However if you’re looking for something inspirational and decent to watch with your young ones on a Saturday night, give The Longshots a chance. Your kids will most likely enjoy it, and who knows? You could come away cheering for the film, too.