Like eating a familiar dish you’ve had a hundred times before, The Longshots, a true story inspired film starring Ice Cube and Keke Palmer (Akeela and the Bee), is a pretty standard recipe. Also, like good comfort food, it has just the right amount of all the usual ingredients that help make family movies satisfying and enjoyable for a wide audience. It’s obvious that writer Nick Santora and director Fred Durst (yes, THE Fred Durst, from Limp Bizkit) weren’t shooting for an Academy Award with this one. With a little comedy, a little drama, a dash of innocent romance and a whole lot of inspirational situations this movie should succeed with a wide range of viewers and offers an entire town of characters to identify with and care about. The only real surprise may be the subtle way that it deals with harsh issues like adolescent angst, single parent homes, racial stereotypes and small town poverty and still maintains a certain amount of innocent charm.
Ice Cube stars as down-and-out Curtis Plummer living in also down-and-out Minden, Illinois. Minden was a thriving community until the local factory closed it’s doors. Immediately a large percentage of the town’s population decided to find a way out, including Curtis, who was a local football hero before he injured his knee and had to go to work for the factory. Unfortunately, getting out of Minden takes money, something those left behind have precious little of.
The movie opens with townspeople making their way through the middle of town on their way to church. Just about everyone, that is, except Curtis, who dips into his “Get Outta Minden” fund to buy a twenty-four ounce can of beer and make his way to the local Pop Warner football field to watch the Minden Browns practice. Curtis observes some of the local characters playing chess and a colorful old codger who sleeps right next to the practice field while the football team falls all over each other in the background.
We’re then introduced to young Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer), Curtis’ niece, who is an introverted, pre-teen attending Minden Middle School. Jasmine spends most of her time, both at school and at home, with her nose in a novel. This, of course, dooms her to being taunted and ridiculed by most of the kids at her school. Her single mother informs Jasmine that she has to take on extra hours at the Main Street Diner and will have to find someone to look after her until she gets home. Obviously, she turns to Curtis for help, who refuses until she offers to pay him.
With methodical predictability Curtis and Jasmine develop a bond because of Curtis’ obsession with football and his former glory days. Curtis eventually brings Jasmine out of her shell and convinces her to try out for the football team and Jasmine helps Curtis clean himself up and find a life.
The story arc doesn’t deviate from the expected but it really doesn’t matter because it all feels comfortable and warm. Every character, down to the old vagrant who holds valuable wisdom behind rheumy eyes surrounded by deep wrinkles, the game playing retirees who always have a smart ass comment for every situation or even the town preacher who proves to be just as human as the rest of them all, to the last, resemble someone each of us might actually know and like.
No, it’s not in the same league with timeless football movies like Rudy, Lucas or Radio. Nonetheless, The Longshots definitely fits the bill for family viewing. It will appeal to all ages and genders, equally, which may not win the game but scores enough points to make it worthwhile entertainment and one you may not mind watching with your kids more than once.
The DVD, due to be released on December 2nd, 2008, includes deleted scenes, an enjoyable, introspective featurette on the real Jasmine Plummer, a “making of” featurette and interviews with star Ice Cube and director Fred Durst.
Fred Durst (director) / Nick Santora (screenplay)
CAST: Ice Cube … Curtis Plummer
Keke Palmer … Jasmine
Tasha Smith … Claire Plummer
Jill Marie Jones … Ronnie Macer
Dash Mihok … Cyrus
Matt Craven … Coach Fisher