[Screen It]

(2008) (Ice Cube, Keke Palmer) (PG)

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Dramedy: An unemployed former high school football star convinces his lonely niece to try out as quarterback for the local Pop Warner league team.
Curtis Plummer (ICE CUBE) has seen better days. The former three-time MVP of his high school football team, his glory days are long behind him due to a knee injury that nipped his future career in the bud. Now unemployed due to the local factory shutting down in his hometown of Minden, Illinois, Curtis spends most of his time drinking beer from brown paper bags while avoiding going to church where Reverent Pratt (GARRETT MORRIS) tries to encourage the down-on-their-luck residents to be happy with what they have. Instead, Curtis can usually be found watching Coach Fisher (MATT CRAVEN) and his assistant, Cyrus (DASH MIHOK), try to make something happen with their hapless Pop Warner Football League team, the Minden Browns.

Things aren't much easier for Curtis' niece, Jasmine (KEKE PALMER). Since her deadbeat dad, Roy (MALCOLM GOODWIN), walked out on her five years ago, Jasmine's mom, Claire (TASHA SMITH), has to work extra hours, meaning the smart but shy girl is left alone. Picked on by other students at her school where her only friend is her teacher, Ronnie Macer (JILL MARIE JONES), Jasmine feels like an outcast, and isn't pleased when her mom decides to pay Curtis to spend time with her after class.

Curtis isn't happy about the arrangement either, but that changes when he realizes that his niece seems to have an inherent gift for throwing the football. With zero interest in sports, she thinks he's crazy when he states she should try out as quarterback for the Browns. But from that point on, and after dedicated training with her uncle, she makes the team and leads them on an unlikely winning streak into the playoffs.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
With the Summer 2008 Olympic Games currently underway, it's nice to be reminded how far we've come in terms of celebrating female athletes who are usually overshadowed by their male counterparts in the world of professional sports. Granted, women from some countries (Hello, Saudi Arabia) are still forbidden to participate, but it's encouraging to see attention focused as much (or at least nearly so) on the ladies and to think about how far they've come in international recognition in a fairly short period of overall history.

Even so, it will probably be a long time -- if it ever happens at all -- when women will compete directly against men in the same sporting events. That's obviously mainly due to the majority of men being blessed with a more muscular build than most women, and that comes into play the most when size and strength matter (think weightlifting, sumo wrestling or professional football).

Of course, at a younger age, and before hormones start doing their thing in differentiating the sexes to their final grown-up degree, the playing field is a bit more even. All of which results in the biggest obstacles girls face to playing with the boys being antiquated rules and long-held stereotypes and discrimination. Although not as common nowadays since it's occurring more often than in the past, stories about girls making various boys' teams still occasionally make the news.

One of the more notable ones of recent concerned 11-year-old Jasmine Plummer who not only made it onto the roster of the Harvey Colts in the Pop Warner football league, but also took them into the playoffs as their quarterback. Her story -- or at least a somewhat altered derivation thereof -- now makes it onto the big screen in "The Longshots," a family dramedy starring Ice Cube and Keke Palmer and directed by, of all people, the lead singer of the rock group Limp Bizket.

While its heart is in the right place as a feel good flick, and it occasionally shows fleeting signs of charm (mainly thanks to Palmer who's good here but isn't afforded the same opportunity to be terrific as she was in "Akeela and the Bee"), this is a broadly played, by-the-books sports flick that offers no surprises.

Although I have no idea how much is historically accurate and how much is fictional concoction (methinks the latter is far greater than the former), the script -- penned by Nick Santora -- and direction by Fred Durst never strays from the usual conventions of the genre. Granted, there isn't a great deal that can be done with the sports material on the field (especially when dealing with such young kids -- although the ages of the performers playing them seem to be all over the board), but the filmmakers also dredge up the stereotypes for the off-the-field offerings.

There's the girl with the hard-working single mom and a deadbeat dad who doesn't return until his offspring suddenly seems worthy for him to mooch some fame and maybe a few bucks. A former high school star is down on his luck and can only remember his glory days until an unlikely catalyst turns his life around. And those in the small town pull themselves up by their boot-straps to cheer on and support the team that rallies their spirits and such.

Had a gazillion previous sports flicks not covered the exact same material, some or perhaps even all of that might have come across as interesting or engaging. And with Durst copying the visual styles of just as many such pics (although there are far too many random, slow-motion shots for my taste), there's next to nothing here to engage the viewer.

That is, except for Palmer who single-handedly keeps at least part of the film in play with her performance. Granted, she similarly isn't given anything new or particularly interesting with which to work, but she somehow manages to grab and hold one's interest whenever she's on screen.

Unfortunately, but certainly not unexpectedly, Ice Cube ends up competing for her as the star of the pic. While I'm happy to report he's not as grating as in his previous family comedy pics (and he's actually okay here), the guy's still far better suited for tough guy roles than any sort of lovable loser ones.

While those who likely broadly played, predictable sports dramedies might enjoy this, I'd suggest you punt and find a better alternative. Not as bad as I thought it was going to be, but sacked by genre conventions (even if it is about a girl playing on a boy's team) as well as lackluster filmmaking, "The Longshots" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 18, 2008 / Posted August 22, 2008

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