The Longshots -- DVD Review

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This is a review of the theatrical release, published on August. 19, 2008

Aside from a few references to Tyra Banks and Beyonce, "The Longshots" feels like it unfolds in a bygone era.

It's as though rocker-turned-director Fred Durst and producer-star Ice Cube are determined to show that they can be tender traditionalists. If anything, they err on the side of understatement in this insistently old-fashioned triumph-of-the-underdog sports drama. The film's crucial weakness, though, is a script that too dutifully hits every standard plot point of the genre to deliver the intended inspirational impact.

Credited to Nick Santora, the screenplay turns the true story of Jasmine Plummer -- who in 2003, at age 11, became the first and only female quarterback to play in the Pop Warner national football tournament -- into something familiar rather than remarkable. Still, young star Keke Palmer ("Akeelah and the Bee") is a warm, likable lead, and if much in the movie feels by-the-numbers, she and Ice Cube, as the girl's unlikely mentor, generate a believable, affecting chemistry. Filling a family-film void, the earnest film could make a modest showing on the boxoffice scoreboard.

Palmer and Ice Cube play lost souls. Jasmine is a sad, friendless teen who longs for the father who abandoned her and her waitress mother (Tasha Smith). Curtis (Ice Cube) is her unemployed factory worker uncle. He shambles through his days clutching a football like the security blanket it is for him, a link to his glory days as a high school gridiron star. Discovering Jasmine's talent for throwing the ball, Curtis finds new purpose, and Ice Cube brings a quiet, aching self-awareness to the role. As an outcast who finds a joyful place in the world and learns to respect the man she once disdained, Palmer captures Jasmine's grace and grit -- she's no cookie-cutter tomboy.

Curtis and Jasmine's mutual affection is not far beneath the surface of their initial verbal sparring. The two leads lend this bond a gentle authenticity, but the relatively smooth transformation of their relationship reflects the film's key problem: It lacks tension. Every potential conflict that arises is quickly resolved, whether it's the antagonism between uncle and niece, the doubts of the school team's coach (Matt Craven) or the resistance of Jasmine's teammates. If someone in the film says no, it's a sure thing that by scene's end they'll have changed their mind. As a result, every triumph registers low on the emotion meter, and most of the supporting characters are two-dimensional at best.

In Durst's second stint behind the helm (his first effort, the coming-of-age drama "The Education of Charlie Banks," has not yet received a theatrical release), the Limp Bizkit frontman takes an assured, low-key approach. With the strong contributions of DP Conrad Hall and designers Charles Breen and Mary McLeod, he convincingly turns Minden, La., into a faded Illinois burg, a place of autumnal woods and economic decline. But that elegiac sense of place is undercut by the script. When the town rallies around the Jasmine-led team, characters speaking repeatedly of "heart," the emotional effect is nil. Teddy Castellucci's score, too, reaches for the obvious, laying on the heartwarming bluster especially thick.
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