A struggling small town. An unemployed, middle-aged man whose dreams have passed him by. A precocious tween girl with an unusual talent. An unlikely shot at redemption. Mix these familiar ingredients and you have The Longshots, the latest underdog sports film to be inspired by a dramatic true story—this one about the first female quarterback (an 11-year-old) in the Pop Warner league.
Ice Cube steps into the worn-out shoes of Curtis Plummer, a former high school football phenom whose promising future was sidelined by an accident that destroyed his knee. Curtis, who's been without work since a Minden, Ill., factory closed, spends his days sipping Budweiser and loitering just outside the football field where the local Pop Warner football team practices.
Curtis is spiraling toward hopelessness and homelessness when his sister, Claire, asks him to babysit her daughter, Jasmine, after school. Curtis and Jasmine have little in common apart from their outsider status. The bookish and therefore ostracized schoolgirl isn't into sports. She'd rather watch Tyra Banks on TV and dream about becoming a model. But when Curtis cajoles her into playing catch with a football one afternoon, something special happens: Jasmine, he—and she—learns, can throw the ball. Curtis quickly convinces the team's coach to give the girl a shot.
Not until the team has lost its first several games is the coach desperate enough to send the newly minted female quarterback onto the field. But when he does, touchdowns commence, followed by a string of victories ... and post-season playoffs. Suddenly, Curtis and Jasmine have found something worth living and fighting for, something that gives meaning and hope not only to them but to the entire town of Minden.
Last stop in this spirited story of pigskin redemption: the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Miami. There, Jasmine becomes the first female ever to compete for the ultimate in pint-size gridiron glory as the quarterback of the Minden Browns.
Claire is conscientious and loving, but she's forced to take longer hours as a waitress at a diner to make ends meet. She realizes that her daughter needs adult supervision and encourages her to think about an after-school extracurricular activity. When that doesn't pan out, she asks Curtis to spend time with Jasmine.
Curtis doesn't initially win any "Uncle of the Year" awards. It takes a $5-an-hour payoff to sweeten the pot enough for him to capitulate. And even then he says Claire should "get someone with common sense," something he knows he doesn't have. Early on, Curtis says that Jasmine is "too weird and moody for me." But slowly the pair hits it off.
Once they connect via football, both of their hearts open up to one another and to life in new ways. As a result of Curtis' coaching, Jasmine's confidence grows by leaps and bounds. She returns the favor by gently (and not so gently) informing Curtis that he needs to do some basic things—like laundry. ("You stink," she tells him.) She also chastises him for lying to her class when he's inadvertently roped into speaking on "career day." Jasmine plays a key role in encouraging Curtis to ask out her teacher.
Curtis likewise begins to fill a father-figure vacuum that's been created by the departure of Jasmine's deadbeat dad, Roy, five years before. When Roy shows up during the playoffs, it looks as though he's genuinely interested in reconnecting with his daughter. Curtis knows better, and his suspicions are proven right when Roy breaks his promise and fails to show for the Super Bowl. At halftime, Curtis tells a dispirited Jasmine, "I've known Roy all his life. All he does is run from his problems. But of all the mistakes I've seen him make, the biggest one was ever leaving you. I promise you I'll never make that mistake." Later, when Roy again tries to manipulate Jasmine, she makes it clear that Curtis is the father she's loyal to because he's loyal to her. And she grows up more in that one moment than in her previous 11 years combined.
Curtis also becomes the team's impromptu coach when its original coach suffers a heart attack. Despite some reluctance, he steps into that role of leadership and executes it with tenacity as he inspires the team. And when it comes to coaching, Longshots offers some important lessons about teamwork and sportsmanship. The first coach emphasizes, "Pride doesn't win football games, hard work wins football games. Individuals don't win football games, teams win football games." When he puts on the whistle, Curtis encourages his players not to do victory dances after big plays, but simply to hand the ball to the referee respectfully.
The Minden Browns' success inspires the whole community to a new level of civic pride. Townspeople clean up Main Street and hold a fundraiser to send their team to the Florida finale. Many donate cash and even prized possessions. Curtis gives his life savings—money he'd been saving to get out of Minden—to fund the operation. The local church donates its bus to shuttle the team south for the big game.
[Spoiler Warning] In the end, Pop Warner officials offer Curtis a plumb coaching job in Miami. He turns the offer down and tells Jasmine, "It's a cool place to visit, but it ain't home."
A reverend exhorts his economically struggling congregation, "Jesus gave us a brain and he gave us a heart. That's all you need. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you forget about what you do have." Jasmine and Curtis read a book titled Magique, which she says is about "a boy who becomes a magical warrior."
Up until he starts spending time with Jasmine, Curtis longs for nothing more than to leave Minden. The symbol of his escape is a postcard from Miami that's filled with a woman's bikini-clad backside. A mild joke revolves around what the Browns' center calls his "King Kongs." His coach calls them "Ping-Pongs."
Jasmine takes several hard knocks during practices and games. She responds to a rough welcome by hurling the football at the crotch of one boy who keeps sacking her.
Crude or Profane Language
"Jesus" and "Christ" are exclaimed one time each. We also hear a handful of misuses of God's name. "D--n" is blurted out seven or eight times, "a--" three or four (once by the reverend), "h---" once.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Early on, Curtis goes to a convenience store and purchases a can of beer, then nurses it while it's still in the brown paper bag. Several other scenes picture him drinking as well—including when he shows up at school to meet Jasmine. His drinking ceases as he gets more involved with Jasmine and her team, though in one moment of doubt he imbibes again. It seems fairly clear that his drinking is intended as visual shorthand for his aimlessness and loss of hope.
Other Negative Elements
Mean-spirited popular girls call Jasmine a "loser" and say that she's sitting at the "nerd table," which leads her to tell her mom, "Everyone hates me. They think I'm an idiot." An opposing player taunts Jasmine after a sack, saying, "Got a little dirt in your skirt?" Another player says he's going to hit her hard enough to "knock her out of her training bra." Jasmine finds a jockstrap in her helmet.
When Jasmine accidentally tosses a football through a strangers' window while she and Curtis are practicing, he encourages her to run away. Twice we see a down-on-his luck Minden resident scratch a lottery ticket. A group of popular students say they're inviting Jasmine to join their clique, then tell her that they just want her to clean the bathroom for them. The phrase "dookie" is used twice in this context.
Beyoncé, Tyra Banks and Foxy Brown all get approving nods with no footnotes about some of their trouble spots.
Of the making of against-all-odds sports movies, it could be said, There is no end. The Longshots is but the latest to put this tried-and-true formula to work.
The result this time around is a nice if uninspired movie somewhere in the neighborhood of Angels in the Outfield or The Sandlot. The storyline has some genuinely feel-good moments—especially if you're a sucker for underdog stories like I am. Its frequent positive messages about family, love, discipline and teamwork are impossible to miss. And these themes certainly pop up more often than the problematic content does. But addressing the latter, I'd have to say that the two misuses of Jesus' name are big disappointments.
Perhaps more interesting than what's onscreen is the person sitting in the director's chair: Fred Durst. Yes, that Fred Durst, the former frontman of '90s nu metal titans Limp Bizkit. This is a band whose albums overflowed with f-words and celebrated violence, vandalism, drugs, alcohol and promiscuity.
How, then, did the mouthpiece of that band come to make this movie that majors on apple pie values? In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, 37-year-old Durst said of his former self, "That guy's gone. I mean, I'm still me, but that character, that alter ego, is backstage somewhere waiting to get on stage. The director has a whole other perspective going on."
Durst went on to say that one of his goals as he moved from music-making to moviemaking was to craft a family-friendly film. "It could easily be a cheesy movie," he said. "But by me and Ice Cube teaming up, we were able to fight it. I didn't want to do a throwaway, mindless movie with fart jokes just to make 6-year-olds laugh. I want to provide my children with some substance."
Indeed. For the most part, as unlikely as it may seem, Durst has succeeded.
Come to think of it, he and the aforementioned Ice Cube make quite a pair, don't they? Ice Cube has been in the midst of a similar transition from bad boy musician to would-be family-friendly film star. None of his vehicles have been perfect. (Read our reviews of First Sunday, Are We There Yet? and Are We Done Yet? for reference if you wish.) But they, and now The Longshots, are a far cry from the gratuitously foul offerings we'd come to expect from Mr. Cube and Mr. Durst.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ice Cube as Curtis Plummer; Keke Palmer as Jasmine Plummer; Tasha Smith as Claire Plummer; Matt Craven as Coach Fisher; Malcolm Goodwin as Roy Plummer
Fred Durst ( )