The Longshots is one of those sports films that in many ways you see coming from miles away. It certainly feeds upon that against all odds sports cliché that you’ve likely seen a hundred times if you’ve seen it once. But in so many other ways, this is a story with more than a champion’s heart and courage. In many ways it’s about family and redemption. While the film is based loosely on the story of Jasmine Plummer, it is just as much the story of her uncle Curtis, who was saving himself as he was trying to help his niece. I’m not a huge Ice Cube fan. Honestly, I find most of his characters to be an extension of the punk attitude he garnered as a rapper. But this role is significantly better than anything I’ve seen him do before. The part doesn’t necessarily call for a lot of chops to play, but Ice Cube does add a certain amount of sincerity to the role, without having to extend himself all that far. It almost looks effortless, like he’s sleepwalking through the part, but it leads to rather inspirational results when taken as a whole.
Jasmine Plummer was the first girl to take a Pop Warner football team to that league’s Super Bowl. She begins the film as a total outcast in her school. When her single mother is forced to work longer hours to make ends meet, she worries about leaving the despondent 13 year old alone. She turns to Jasmine’s down and out Uncle Curtis. Once an All American football star himself, he has fallen on hard times. Depression over his own mother’s death has made him pretty much a man with no ambition. With an old football in one hand and a can of beer in the other, he spends his days at the park watching the local Pop Warner team practice. He reluctantly agrees to watch his niece but has little heart for the job; that is until he observes her throwing a football. From that point he becomes her mentor and gets her on the all boys team. Together they bring out the best hidden inside of themselves. Curtis engages in some Karate Kid style training, and before long Jasmine is accepted by her teammates and they are on the road to the championship game. As Jasmine’s fame grows, her absentee father shows up to get a bit of her limelight. Jasmine now has the strength to deal with those kinds of issues, which, in the end, is her ultimate victory.
I already talked a bit about Ice Cube, but props have to go out to young Keke Palmer. She’s got a ton of enthusiasm for the part, and her performance is the obvious result of hard work and dedication. In some ways her own story is not all that different from Jasmine’s. She bonds well with Ice Cube, and it is here that the best of the film’s performances are born. It’s also very sweet to see Garrett Morris play the town’s reverend. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Morris in anything, and he’s always a welcome sight. He may finally be getting on in years, but he’s still one of the best character actors around. The only flaw in the film is the rather mundane directing by Fred Durst. On so many occasions he doesn’t seem to understand the material. When the film isn’t in the hands of Ice Cube or Palmer, it often goes astray. He doesn’t get superior performances out of the rest of the cast. Mostly they are filling time. The film’s pacing is awkward, again saved only by the onscreen chemistry of the leads. Durst shows his inexperience time and again. Shots appear limited and never fully take advantage of the wide screen format. He needs to understand this is not a stage, and he isn’t shooting a square shaped television music video. Too bad he didn’t share the passion of his stars. This was also the first time I ever saw a credit for a director’s security guard in the final roll. You needn’t have worried, Fred. I don’t think anyone was out to get you, at least not until after they saw how poorly you managed such a good film.
The Longshots is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The film looks sharp and clean. Colors are a little muted at times, but that’s more the fault of some poor lighting in places. This was not one of the best shot films I’ve seen. Still, the reproduction is quite faithful, so that what you see is pretty much what was shot. Black levels are slightly above average. Contrast is actually considerably above average, which lends itself to the crisp looking image you do get.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a little above average. The only time you really hear the sound field spread out a bit is during some of the football action. Durst has overloaded his film with dialog, so most of what you get will come from the center speaker. Once in a while some relatively dynamic music comes and goes, but I expected more here from Durst with his own musical background. So, it’s pretty much about the talking, and you get that as clear as it gets. Subs stay pretty quiet throughout.
Deleted Scenes: There are 13 in all for about 20 minutes of footage, and you can access them individually or with the convenient play all option. Mostly nothing special here, but there are a couple of scenes I think should have remained in the film. One is a very sweet moment between Curtis and the Reverend. Another gives us some background we missed. It turns out the father of the replaced quarterback on the team was also the team’s financial backer. We learn how he ends up on defense. At one point Jasmine is injured, and this could have been a good moment to show her coming back from adversity. As is, the film doesn’t really show many bumps on the road once the team starts to roll.
Jasmine Plummer – The Real Longshot: Meet the real Jasmine Plummer and Curtis. Cast and crew also talk about how the story inspired them. Ice Cube appears to stay in character with his football and beer can. The feature is a scant 7 minutes in length.
Making The Longshots: Candid moments behind the camera highlight how well Ice Cube and Palmer bonded. A bit of a love fest here, but for 8 minutes I can handle it.
A Conversation With Ice Cube: More interview clips that even retread some footage from a previous feature.
A Conversation With Fred Durst: Honestly, if I were on the fence before I saw this 7 minute clip I wasn’t afterwards. He appears to have no clue what he has going on here. Someone is also lying. Earlier Keke Palmer talks rather enthusiastically of her conversation with the real Jasmine. Here Durst attempts to build Palmer up, as if he really needed to, by telling us that she never met Jasmine. My money’s on the girl. Durst appears totally disingenuous here. This feature only proves that this was a pretty good film in spite of a crappy director.
I found myself liking this film even though part of me didn’t really want to. I guess, like you, I’ve seen too many of these chumps to champs films over the years. They’re predictable and often pretty unbelievable. Something about this film actually made me believe. Even during the obviously fictionalized for dramatic effect moments, I was able to buy into it. It’s a charming film that doesn’t always look so sterile. It also doesn’t wrap up into a neat everything worked out perfect bundle. I have to respect that. Ice Cube provided us with an additional character to cheer for here, which fills out the film quite nicely. Again you’ll find yourself believing it, as well. “Let me hear you say, I believe.”