The Longshots

(2008) ** Pg
95 min. Dimension Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM). Director: Fred Durst. Cast: Ice Cube, Keke Palmer, Tasha Smith, Jill Marie Jones, Dash Mihok.

/content/films/3275/2.jpgThe Longshots delivers on a couple of points that I can get behind: it's a PG-rated and therefore family-friendly film that promotes the athletic rise of a girl. A better film with similar qualifications was all but ignored last year (though Gracie was PG-13), but now the stone has had all its rough edges smoothed out for mass consumption. And that's the problem with this well-intentioned celebration of the spirit of Title IX: it wants so badly to be liked that it tries to blend into the crowd. In that way, the film is the polar opposite of the brave heroine whose story it tells.

Unlikely first-time feature helmer Fred Durst (of Limp Bizkit fame) turns out to be perfectly capable of making a competent but undistinguished movie. And he has a charming lead in Keke Palmer, who plays real-life Pop Warner pioneer Jasmine Plummer. But the true story has been mulched into industrial-grade fertilizer, a point that's immediately evident when Ice Cube appears as Jasmine's Uncle Curtis. Turning Plummer's real uncle (Fred Johnson) into a no-count pyramid-scheming "entrepeneur" may serve a dramatic (or comedic) purpose, but to me the archetypal Ice Cube character seems an unnecessary and borderline-racist insult in a story that should have enough inherent drama.

Anyway, as The Longshots has it, the fictional Curtis longs to get out of economically depressed Minden, Illinois (he has a cashbox labelled "Get Outta Minden Fund" with money and a postcard from Florida, a point established to the tune of Otis Redding's "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)"). Though Garrett Morris' reverend says, "Things aren't the way they used to be, and...they might never get back to where they were!", economically depressed Minden seems to be a city left behind as time marched onward, an impression furthered by Charles Breen's production design and Conrad W. Hall's use of a dirt-colored filter.

Meanwhile, fatherless bookworm Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer) is in need of an afterschool distraction. When her mother pairs her with Curtis, Jasmine turns sullen, in part because she's clearly not wanted. "I don't even like kids," Curtis opines. "She too weird and moody for me...Go get Dr. Phil or the Dog Whisperer or somebody." But the two get to talking and discover each has something to offer, an idea brought to life when Curtis sees Jasmine blithely throw a football with at least as much skill as anyone on the town's poor Pop Warner team. Before you can say "Act Two," Curtis has convinced the team's coaches (Matt Craven and Dash Mihok) to give Jasmine a try.

What follows should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever seen a sports movie, particularly a kid-themed one. There's nothing so terrible about The Longshots, and it certainly has a good message. One just wishes it could be more artful and less commercial in its delivery of Plummer's story.


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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 12/2/2008

Distributor: Genius Entertainment

Genius Products scores with their special edition of The Longshots, beginning with an excellent A/V transfer. Other than a trace of edge enhancement, the hi-def picture is sharp and clean, with strong detail and accurate rendering of the film's sepia-tinged look. Audio options are also up to snuff: both the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks provide an excellent home-video representation of the immersive theatrical experience, with the TrueHD option being the definitive choice.

A nice selection of bonus features surround the feature, beginning with 13 "Deleted Scenes" (19:24 with "Play All" option) that provide an opportunity to review omitted story beats. The standard-issue featurette "Making The Longshots" (8:06) rounds up Keke Palmer, Ice Cube, Tasha Smith, Dash Mihok, Matt Craven, and Miles Chandler, as we observe director Fred Durst at work.

"A Conversation with Ice Cube" (5:30) is self-explanatory, while the slightly more thorough "A Conversation with Fred Durst" (7:27) begins with the unlikely thought "I love thought in film, in character," and proceeds to explanations of his approach to the script and the true story, his personal stake in the material, his enjoyment in working with Ice Cube on a film, and the talent of Keke Palmer.

Most intriguing (and leaving us wanting more) is "Jasmine Plummer: The Real Longshot" (6:45), a quick profile including comments by Plummer, her uncle Fred Johnson, Durst, Ice Cube, and Palmer. Last up is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:33). There's enough added value here to please fans of the film, though I'm sure many would like to hear a commentary from Durst.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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