Like Mamma Mia! and herpes, the inspirational sports drama just won’t die. Still, if not a much-needed reinvention of the hackneyed genre, credit nonetheless goes to The Longshots for at least toning down the over-processed syrup and stale clichés that normally accompany such stories. Directed by erstwhile Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, this family film recounts the true-life tale of 11-year-old Jasmine Plumber (Keke Palmer), who with the help of her down-and-out uncle Curtis (Ice Cube) becomes her middle-school football team’s starting quarterback and the first girl to ever play in the Pop Warner Super Bowl. Despondent over her dad’s absence, Jasmine gets an unlikely father figure in Curtis, an unemployed beer guzzler who longs to leave their Minden, Illinois hometown for Miami, and who first notices, and then nurtures, bookish Jasmine’s pigskin potential. Curtis gives the constantly picked-on Jasmine confidence, her success in turn revitalizes him, and their amazing run to the championship game eventually brings new life to the struggling town, a round robin of feel-goodness that Durst prevents from turning overly mawkish through assured, restrained direction. Requisite montages, humor, and peripheral characters and subplots are all obediently trotted out, but The Longshots‘s heartstring-tugging benefits from Durst’s patient long takes—notably, one in which Curtis asks Jasmine’s teacher out on a date—that foster genuine engagement with the characters’ stock gender/class plights and afford his stars’ performances room to breathe. The director’s football sequences lack pop and more than one scene lands with a thud, but Durst’s shrewd decision to concentrate attention on individuals rather than situations—at least, that is, until the last act, when plot demands turn the proceedings into a formulaic bore—helps shift attention away from the narrative’s dull familiarity. It’s a strategy that wouldn’t work if not for the effortlessly unaffected Palmer, who manages to convey acute preteen turmoil without the aid of trite dialogue, though perhaps even more impressive is that, for the first time since Three Kings, her co-star Cube opts—with moderate success, but still—for dramatically earnest pathos rather than simply seriocomic shtick.
- 94 min
- Fred Durst
- Nick Santora
- Ice Cube, Keke Palmer, Tasha Smith, Jill Marie Jones, Dash Mihok, Matt Craven
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