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Longshots, The

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 08/22/08 06:00:00

"Another formulaic triumph-against-the-odds sports drama."
3 stars (Just Average)

"The Longshots," another in the seemingly endless series of sports dramas supposedly “based on a true story” (it is, but only loosely) is clichéd, predictable, manipulative, and seen in the right (or is it wrong?) light, a surefire crowd pleaser for moviegoers interested in a feel good film centered on female empowerment (through American football no less) and the redemptive power of American football (think "We Are Marshall" or "Invincible") for communities impoverished by the outsourcing of blue collar jobs, all wrapped up in saccharine homilies about believing in yourself, having heart, and taking pride in yourself, your accomplishments, your team, and your community.

The Longshots centers on Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer), a smart, shy teenage girl who prefers reading to socializing with her middle-school classmates. Her introversion and reticence make her the easy butt of jokes, which in turn, makes her even less interested in taking social or personal risks. As Jasmine’s mother, Claire (Tasha Smith), works long hours at the local diner, Jasmine is forced to spend time with her uncle, Curtis (Ice Cube), an unemployed ex-football player with dual drinking and hygiene problems. Rather than take a helping hand from an old friend and assistant coach, Cyrus (Dash Mihok) or Coach Fisher (Matt Craven), the head coach of the local Pop Warner’s team, the Minden Browns, Curtis prefers to wallow in self-pity and dream about leaving Minden for Miami.

As Jasmine and Curtis gradually warm to each other, Curtis discovers Jasmine’s natural athletic talent. Seeing her potential, Curtis convinces Jasmine to train and try out for the Minden Browns. Despite Coach Fisher’s reticence and doubts, Jasmine wins him over. She joins the Minden Browns as the back-up quarterback, but eventually wins the starting job and the support of her teammates. She also becomes an inspiration for the hard-up Minden community. Together with Curtis, who unsurprisingly begins to pay more attention to personal hygiene, Jasmine leads the Minden Browns through several improbable wins, through the playoffs and, eventually, the Pop Warner Superbowl game in Miami, Florida. Jasmine also has to deal with the return of her ne’er-do-well father, Roy (Malcolm Goodwin).

Nick Santora’s (Prison Break) screenplay sputters, stutters, and stumbles through every sports drama cliché, from the central characters who only have to learn to believe in themselves, work hard, and success, personal and professional, will surely follow, to the obligatory romance between Curtis and a schoolteacher, Ronnie Macer (Jill Marie Jones), who somehow looks beyond his bad hygiene habits and lack of employment opportunities, to the team won over by the star player’s personality and excellence on the field, to the inevitable, improbably easy march to and through the playoffs, to the unfinished business between the central character and her father, to the moribund community brought together by their love of American football, and to all the bland platitudes in between.

If Santora’s screenplay leaves no sports drama cliché unturned, then director Fred Durst (yes, "that" Fred Durst, the same Fred Durst who led Limp Bizkit to commercial success in the 1990s) deserves some of the blame for the mediocrity that is "The Longshots." At best, Durst’s direction is competent, functioning primarily to advance through the waist-deep pile of clichés Santora’s screenplay indulges in at every opportunity. At worst, Durst needs to improve on the pacing and rhythm of scene construction. Where he succeeds, however, is in getting believable performances from his cast, easy in the case of Ice Cube, always an engaging presence onscreen, no less so for the supporting cast, including Keke Palmer ("Akeelah and the Bee), who also turn in grounded performances.

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