Longshots, The

The new Ice Cube star vehicle, “The Longshots,” could be described as an old-fashioned inspirational tale, a consciously life-affirming saga that intends to make the viewers feel good (or better) about themselves and their lives.

It may or may not be ironic, but the movie's title also speaks to its box-office prospects, unless Cube's fans will come in droves to the theater, instead of waiting for the DVD release.

A likable entertainer, Cube is a goofy, laid back performer, who has done well with his youth fare in the 1990s, in New Line's “Friday” series (“Friday,” Next Friday,” “Friday After Next”), which offered a comic look of street life, and his most recent family fare, “Are We There Yet” and “Are We Done Yet” Cube is the best thing in the movie, which is poorly and sluggishly directed by Fred Durst.

“The Longshots” is similar in plot, crises, and resolutions to the other upbeat comeback and second-chance stories, such as the superior Richard Linklater's “School of Rock” with Jack Black, and the latest and inferior “The Rocker, starring Rainn Wilson (which opened yesterday).

The formula is applied to a new setting, a dreary small-town, and race, centering on African-American rather than white protagonists, as in all the other flicks. The saga revolves around an ambitious and resourceful female teenager, Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer of “Akeelah and the Bee” fame) who is trained by her uncle Curtis Plummer (Cube) to compete in the Pop Warner national football championship.

The movie owes its existence to the story of Jasmine Plummer, who was the first girl to play in the Pop Warner youth football league. However, these days, whether a story is based or not on a factual story matters less (it's almost irrelevant), because all stories about underdogs overcoming obstacles and beating the odds are by-the book generic creations, particularly when they are applied to sports, a time-honored field in Hollywood filmmaking, long before “Rocky.” Scribe Nick Santora must have watched a lot of movies, for he borrows elements from any number of them, though technically, his is considered to be an “original” scanario.

Who's Curtis Plummer Like other protags of recent features, he's a middle-aged, slightly disenchanted and bitter man, a former high school star who, due to a knee injury never fulfilled his (and others) expectations. In another words, he was an almost somebody who became a nobody, to use the jargon of these films. Now, all Plummer wants is to forget his past and his present. Living in a drab Illinois small town (standing in for every suffocating Small-Town America), means limited opportunities and unpromising future, to say the least.

“The Longshots” is a particularly blatant sampler of the genre, wearing its heart and its ideological message on its sleeves, beginning with the notion of there's no place like home. Just like the protag of “The Rocker,” ultimately, Plummer saves himself through family ties, specifically his working class sister Claire (Tasha Smith) and her 11-year-old daughter, who shows talent in passing the pigskin. The good uncle is determined to cultivate her skills.

Will he succeed Will he redeem himself The only semblance of crisis is when Curtis announces that he is considering a coaching job in another city, a dilemma that's taken care of and neatly resolved quicker than the similar one in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” sixty years ago.

The conception and execution are modest and familiar to a fault, keeping the number of characters to a minimum, which may be also be a function of the budget. Fortunately, the central duo acquits itself honorably; at least they are not embarrassing, considering the situations in which they are placed and the dialogue they are asked to recycle. Helmer Durst, who was a lead singer of Limp Bizkit, did much better in his feature debut, the low-budget indie “The Education of Charlie Banks,” which played and won a prize at the Tribeca Film Festival.

We go through the predictable motions of Jasmine overcoming her uncle's reluctance, then facing suspicion and hostility from her coaches and mates, raising the question of, “Does the girl have what it takes” At first, the team is on a losing streak, but with Jasmine as a quarterback, their luck changes and they begin to win.

Soon, the depressed town folks show empathy and sympathy, embracing with pride their local team and heroine. Even Jasmine's long-absent, irresponsible father has a change of heart, which he proves when he comes back to witness her triumph (trust me, I am not revealing any plot points here).

The characters are not quite caricatures, but they are stock types living in a stereotypical Middle-western factory town. Benefiting from underplaying and low-key approach, Cube is rather likable and often projects sincerity, considering thee contrivance and schmaltz. As his niece, Keke Palmer capably expresses teenage forlorn existence, restlessness and aspiration, and ultimately newfound confidence and hope. The actors look good together, enjoying onscreen chemistry.

The movie was shot on location in Minden, where the Pop Warner game took place, by Conrad W. Hall, son of the brilliant cinematographer Conrad Hall. Though not entirely his fault, the visuals are also simplistic in their use of parallel montages. Hence, we see Jasmine, the sad, abandoned girl, walking down in empty, dirty streets, burying her head in her books. This is followed (or preceded) by uncle Plummer walking down the same streets, except that he's carrying beer cans in brown paper bags, signifying a bum's life with no future. Will Smith was seen in a similarly iconic shot in “Hancock,” except that he was a superman, a comic-book hero, in a summer fable-fantasy-blockbuster.


Curtis Plummer – Ice Cube
Jasmine Plummer – Keke Palmer
Cyrus – Dash Mihok
Claire Plummer – Tasha Smith
Ronnie – Jill Marie Jones
Coach Fisher – Matt Craven
Damon – Miles Chandler
Winston – Glenn Plummer


An MGM release of a Dimension Films presentation of a Cube Vision and Blackjack Films production. Produced by Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez, Nick Santora.
Executive producers: Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Andy La Marca.
Directed by Fred Durst.
Screenplay, Nick Santora.
Camera: Conrad W. Hall.
Editor: Jeffrey Wolf.
Music: Teddy Castellucci; music supervisor, Spring Aspers.
Production designer: Charles Breen.
Costume designer: Mary McLeod.
Sound: Walter Anderson.

MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 95 Minutes.