"The Longshots" tries with all its might to be a feel-good family sports drama, but therein lies its problem. Musician-turned-director Fred Durst and screenwriter Nick Santora pile on so many clichés, so many pandering side characters that only exist in the world of movies, and so much saccharine sweetness that the result is more likely to make the viewer feel sick from sugar overload. If the ending takes a slight turn for the unexpected and makes a solid point about dignity and positive gamesmanship, it comes too late to salvage the mess that's already been made.
When introverted 14-year-old Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer) is faced with having her gruff, unemployed Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube) babysit her after school each day while her waitress mom (Tasha Smith) works the evening shift, the two of them do not initially hit it off. Their oil-and-water relationship starts to turn around, however, when Curtis talks her into tossing the football around outside. Jasmine's good aim and forceful throw cannot be denied, and soon Curtis has convinced Coach Fisher (Matt Craven) to give her a shot at joining the school's football teama first for a female in the Pop Warner league. Once onboard, the Minden Browns' losing streak ends and newly empowered quarterback Jasmine finds herself in the playoffs to compete in Miami, Florida's Super Bowl tournament.
"The Longshots" has a troublesome story setup, starting with Jasmine's mom's inane decision to hire Curtis, who walks around all day with a paperbagged beer in his hand, as teenager Jasmine's babysitter. That Jasmine is a mature and responsible young lady never crosses her mind. Later, Curtis starts hanging outside the window of Jasmine's classroom waiting for her school day to be over, which is more icky than endearing. Later still, Curtis aims to woo Jasmine's teacher, the soft-spoken Ronnie Macer (Jill Marie Jones). This romantic subplot, contrived as it is, could have added up to something specialJill Marie Jones (2007's "The Perfect Holiday
") is an exuberant yet likably low-key presence as Ronniebut it is dropped almost immediately after it's introduced.
In the lead role of Jasmine, Keke Palmer (2006's "Akeelah and the Bee
") is an appealing young actress, but her personal story of growth is forced onto the sidelines as "The Longshots" mires itself in the ancient play-by-play handbook of sports movie conventions. Unlike 2007's far superior "Gracie
," which detailed the first teenage girl admitted on a boy's soccer team and never wavered from the planes of reality, this monotonously forced film loses sight of Jasmine for long periods of time and instead chooses to focus on an entire football team's triumphant rise. Why should we care about the team itself? The other players are mere faces in a crowd, and no background is ever given on the team's history. It doesn't matter whether they ultimately win or lose, because that shouldn't be the point. The movie doesn't seem to realize this until moments before the end credits roll.
From the overwrought locker room pep talks, to the near-tragedy that temporarily leaves the team without one of its valued coaches, to the would-be comedic montages of touchdown dances and overall zaniness, to the soaring music score that tells us how we are supposed to feel, to the various townspeople who sit in the stands and throw out faux-witty asides and one-liners, "The Longshots" is cloying and artificial in the extreme. There's even a homeless man who appears at one point to give Curtis wisdom-filled advice at the precise moment that he needs it most. Give me a break. Oh, and let's not forget Jasmine's deadbeat dad Roy (Malcolm Goodwin), who shows back up into her life, gets her hopes up about rekindling a relationship, and then lets her down again. Meanwhile, football scenes are rudimentary. They get the job done, but are so heavily cut up that there is no momentum built.
For Ice Cube (2008's "First Sunday
"), "The Longshots" gives the typically scowling actor a rare chance to be a little more down-to-earth and personable. In a better film, the somewhat fatherly bond his Curtis forms with Jasmine would be affecting and hold a certain gravitas
, but it, too, is at the service of a shaggy, saggy story that confuses broad syrupy strokes for genuine emotion and inspiration. "The Longshots" may be based on a true story, but the lackluster, focally confused treatment it receives is anything but authentic.