'The Longshots" is a certifiable crowd pleaser, an agreeable variation on the kid sports movie formula whose family-friendly messages outweigh its corny overfamiliarity.
Set in the world of Pop Warner (pre-high school) football, it is the story of the first girl to play in the Pop Warner version of the Super Bowl.
Of course it's fictionalized. Of course it hits the usual sports formula -- adversities to overcome, tragedy to forget, accepting "the new kid," life lessons learned.
But this dramedy from the musician-turned-filmmaker Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit) hits its marks and tugs its strings. It works. Especially if you've never seen a formula sports dramedy before, something that will be true of most of its audience.
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"Longshots" is about Jasmine Plummer, an outsider in her school in the Rust Belt town of Minden, Ill. Her dad left five years before. She keeps her head in her books and tries to avoid being picked on by the mean girls. And mean boys.
Mom (Tasha Smith) works long shifts at the diner. And since the shy Jasmine (Keke Palmer) won't sign up for after-school programs, Mom needs to find a baby sitter. Curtis, Jasmine's uncle (Ice Cube), has nothing to do, so she talks him into it.
Curtis hasn't worked steadily in years. He doesn't bathe. He loves his Budweiser and sips it in the stands of Minden Field, where the downtrodden Minden Browns play. Back in the day, Curtis was a star. He puts down his beer, gets over his opinion that the kid is "weird and moody" and teaches her football. She's a natural. She would rather be a model like Tyra Banks, but she can learn.
"Do you know what a down and out is?"
Palmer, of "Akeelah and the Bee," is a pretty, earnest young actress who lets us see the wheels turning. But she clicks with Ice Cube, who finally leaves his junky "Are We There Yet?" franchise behind and shows us an effortless charm we haven't seen before.
The film is edited so as not to show us whether Palmer can actually run plays or throw passes. But the football is, at least, Pop Warner appropriate. Those aren't the real Patriots and Browns on the field.
What's more, "Longshots" is packed with positive messages, about family and community pride, about sportsmanship (no showboating in the end zone, kids), about finding your niche. It's messy, with loose ends left dangling as we march toward that next sports formula benchmark.
But Durst and Cube and Co. have done a decent job with a movie that never set out to be more than an average crowd pleaser.