"The Longshots," on the surface, is a movie we've seen countless times before -- an underachieving team, freshly motivated, become real competitors as they ride from one victory to the next. What sets "The Longshots" apart, however, is the central relationship between a sullen girl and her out-of-work uncle.
The film is about Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer), the first girl quarterback to play in the Pop Warner football tournament.
Jasmine, who lives with her mom, Claire (Tasha Smith), is an eleven-year-old more at ease reading books than socializing with classmates. She's tried to get involved in after-school activities, but is teased and soon retreats to her books.
When Claire's work schedule is changed to a later shift, she asks Jasmine's Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube) to look after her in the afternoons. Reluctantly, Curtis agrees. Both Jasmine and Curtis initially resent this arrangement, but try to make the best of it. One day, Curtis, a former high school football player, tosses around a football with Jasmine and sees that she has a good eye and a strong arm. He talks Jasmine into trying out for the local team, telling her she owes it to herself to pursue something she does well.
The story is set in the fictional town of Minden, economically devastated since a local factory -- the town's major employer -- closed down a few years ago. Many shops on the main street are closed, idle men hang out on the streets, and a general air of resigned despair permeates people, buildings, and the town itself.
The film's second act focuses on Jasmine's making the team and turning around its fortunes from also-ran to winner. The team's success energizes the town, giving it something to be proud of.
"The Longshots" delivers a far different experience than I anticipated. Director Fred Durst devotes considerable time to the growing relationship between Jasmine and Curtis. We really get to know them and have a firm grip on their personalities, fears, and frustrations. In a non-rushed series of scenes -- some with gently comic moments -- we come to like these two people and care about what will happen to them.
Ice Cube is very good as Curtis, a man whose self-esteem has taken a hit in the years since his high school glory days. His Curtis is a decent guy who genuinely cares for his niece, partly because his brother, Jasmine's father, has abandoned her. His suggestions are never bullying. They are presented with logical back-up and rationale. He relies upon Jasmine to weigh the suggestions and decide for herself whether to pursue them. Ice Cube is wonderfully expressive, and perfectly conveys what he's thinking, a technique invaluable in acting for the camera.
Ms. Palmer provides a sympathetic yet spirited Jasmine. As she comes to know her uncle better and like him, she listens to him and comes to have faith in herself and respect for her own athletic ability. By playing football, she is making her uncle happy, but is also tapping talents she never knew she had.
What "The Longshots" doesn't contain are scenes of excessive team putdowns of Jasmine, big arguments about a girl playing football, and a melodramatic family home life. Director Durst has wisely cut to the chase, staying with the story of Jasmine, Curtis, and the team's effect on Minden, and avoiding the cliches.
Rated PG, "The Longshots" is an excellent family film -- a movie that can be enjoyed equally by a young audience and their parents.