THE LONGSHOTS is a formula film done exceedingly well. Keke Palmer and Ice Cube (who co-produced) offer the sort of multi-layered performances that elevate a predictable plot into something special. The script, based on the true story of the first girl to quarterback in the Pop Warner Super Bowl for kids, plays to more than just an underdog overcoming the odds. Set squarely in the broken economy of Minden, Illinois, and the emotional scars of a broken family, it avoids the worst clichés while focusing on the undercurrent of sadness that is the reality of everyone’s lives, and the spirit that all of them have, all they need is a little inspiration to get it going.
That comes in the most unlikely of forms. Curtis Plummer (Ice Cube), former high school football star with prospects until his knee gave out, former productive citizen until the local factory went bust, spends his time dreaming of Miami, sipping beer, and carrying a football as he wanders through Minden. Jasmine Plummer (Palmer), his niece, wanders through her middle school, chin tucked in from repeated humiliations by her classmates, nose planted firmly in a book to hide from reality. When Jasmine’s mother, Claire (Tasha Smith), is forced to pull longer shifts at the diner where she waitresses, she turns to Curtis to keep an eye on the girl after school, something neither of them is happy about. There is also the question of who is keeping an eye on whom, as Jasmine gives Curtis a reality check about personal hygiene, and Curtis discovers that while Jasmine’s dream is to be a model, her real talent is a right arm that instinctively knows how to throw a football.
Palmer has the intensity and also the vulnerability to play a lonely, shy girl who doesn’t back down when she finds an unexpected passion. There is the seriousness of a true killer instinct looking out from under that football helmet when she’s calling a play that is startling, and even moreso when she’s staring down the opposition. But before that, there is the need, as instinctive as throwing a football, for a father figure that Palmer blends into the disdain Jasmine feels for an out-of-work uncle with impaired style and a lack of nurturing skills. Watching Palmer’s work having Jasmine, you’ll pardon the expression, bloom under her uncle’s tutelage and attention, as well as the acceptance of the football coach, and then her team’s livens up the well-worn tropes. As for Ice Cube, he has Curtis do his own share of blooming into a guy who redefines what success really means. He’s charming, introspective, and more than a little curmudgeonly at the beginning while being genuinely affecting throughout, particularly in scenes with Palmer, who commands the screen with equal assurance from their characters’ rocky start to the bonding that makes both of them stronger.
THE LONGSHOTS is a heartwarming film that doesn’t gum up the works with arch sentimentality. Colorful supporting characters include homeless guy who lives by the school’s football field, and the local preacher who isn’t above a metaphorical, and not entirely theological, kick in the pants to get his message across. Great for kids, especially little girls, and not a bad time for their parents, either.