You’ve already seen this movie. It is every inspirational football movie (We Are Marshall, Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans), every sort of low-income children struggling just to play a sport film (Little Giants, The Sandlot, The Mighty Ducks), and every black hardworking kid trying to make it big flick (Finding Forrester, Antwone Fisher, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit). Chunks and nuggets from every single one of those films have been ground-up in a big bowl and mashed until there’s nothing identifiable or original left. Then the greyish, gruel-flavored pablum is spooned up tepid for airing on the Disney Channel or ABC Family. The only foreseeable reason something like this would be created, other than to capitalize on the Eddie Murphy as farting donkey alien crowd or the Ice Cube uncomfortably around children in whose asses he’s not permitted to bust a cap Family Film crowd, would be because Best Buy and Wal-Mart needed a third film to cheaply box-set with Gridiron Gang and The Game Plan.
The Longshots is based on the true story of Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer), the first girl ever to compete in the Pop Warner football league. Instead of capitalizing on the interesting premise of dealing with being the first female (black or other color) in the league, writer Nick Santora — whose credits are mostly episodes of “Prison Break” and “Law & Order” — decides instead to make the event second banana to a ridiculously contrived plot involving Jasmine’s uncle, Curtis Plummer (Ice Cube), and his own trials and tribulations. So instead of one captivating story, we’ve got two embarrassingly trite parallel tales, shoehorned into a movie that manages to hit every single solitary cliche in the history of sentimental sport films. I can only imagine Brozilla had a checklist and decided to just write each as an individual scene rather than trying to make a cohesive and amusing film. The dialogue is so terrible, Santora should be forced to publicly eat his WGA card, defecate the remains, and eat the shit. You can actually feel the actors shake their heads and die a little as the film progresses.
The movie isn’t terrible otherwise. It’s just been done to death. It’s not even beating a dead horse, it’s kicking the greasy black mulch where the dead horse has long been dead. The cast is excellent, and while not necessarily rising above their terrible material, they manage to tread water ably. Ice Cube is a good actor. When he’s playing Ice Cube. He’s not an action star, he’s not a family man, he’s not even a fucking Martian Ghostbuster. He can play a dude just trying to get by like nobody’s business, and that’s what Curtis Plummer is: a guy who sits outside a middle school drinking Bud tallboys from a paper bag and mourning the days when he used to play football. Palmer is also talented. I give her insane amounts of credit for at least making the effort to unDisney-fy herself. She handles Jasmine’s maturation ably, going from shy wallflower to hardworking quarterback.
But when life gives you shit, you really can only make shit salad. And Santora, he made the Waldorf of shit salads. I can hear the Adaptation-style internal monologue of Santora writing this script:
A poor community suffering from an industrial shut-down as backdrop. A poor black girl who’s a nerd because she reads and picked on by the other kids…okay, well, just one girl with a disturbingly large pair of red lips and a Dawn Weiner scowl, keep reusing her. Jasmine’s daddy’s gone, and mom works two jobs to get by. Why? Because she’s black and that’s what happens. Don’t you watch any Tyler Perry? Enter her uncle Curtis and make sure he is always carrying a football, everywhere, cause he used to play. Populate the town with plenty of colorful colored characters for later scenes. Uncle has to babysits Jasmine. Lots of walking down secluded railroad tracks so we can have her shouting I-Hate-You and running away. Okay, put that in there twice. The football team can’t complete a pass, and has two plucky coaches who don’t realize they need Curtis’ help. Have Jasmine throw a football to Curtis, make sure we put an obvious whooshing sound in cause she threw it really hard. Not too hard, this isn’t about the American Pie kid who can hurl a ball from the outfield to home plate. (Hmm…remake that though.) Curtis wants Jasmine on the team, but she doesn’t want to play…she wants to be model! She watches Tyra Banks, likes Beyonce, and admires Oprah. What year is the movie supposed to be? Oh, who cares, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. It’s really important the first girl to break the football gender barrier aspires to just be pretty. Because that’s what all girls really want. Sports are icky and make you sweat, and sweat is gross. (See if we can get Secret Antiperspirant to sponsor our movie.) Curtis gets her on the team. Wait? Doesn’t playing quarterback involve a lot more than just throwing like reading receivers, calling plays, and you know, getting tackled? Ah, screw that, too much detail, this isn’t The Replacements. If Keanu can do it, anyone can. Have her throw the ball once and impress the laughing teammates. Throw in a funny getting dressed scene. Put a cup in it! Cups are funny, balls are funny, girls don’t have balls! Box office gold. Back to the bullying. Have someone tackle her repeatedly. Have her hit him in the crotch with the ball. Crotch shots always win on AFV! Then the team likes her. Cause she scored a touchdown once. Make sure we do a lot of the team losing montages, slowly they’ll get better. If we make one girl able to throw a football, suddenly everyone will be able to catch, avoid blockers, and tackle. Have a bunch of trick plays with a weird looking white kid. Can we shrink Jonah Hill? Just get a smallish Jewish. Then give Ice Cube a love interest. Let’s make him fall for Jasmine’s…teacher! Even though she’s not important to the story. In fact, let’s make Jasmine’s only caveat for joining the team that Uncle Curtis has to ask the teacher on a date. Of course the middle school teacher will go out with the homeless dude who never changes his clothing and is unemployed and drinks beer outside the school because he’s Ice Cube, and he’s got game! (Note: ask a black person what game is). The coach will have a heart attack when they’re winning, but not like in Major League. Ooh! His kid’s on the team, and have him yell, “Daaaaaad!” in slow-mo. I just orgasmed in my heart’s pants! Give Ice Cube a whistle! Put in a dance scene now. Why? I don’t know, black people like to dance, right? Now let’s make bad stuff happen. So they have things to overcome and stuff. That weird Dawn Weiner girl, make her a bitchy, jealous cheerleader or something. Then the team will like Jasmine because she’s part of the team. At no point should we acknowledge that Jasmine is a girl or especially a girl of color because that would make this a message film, don’t want that! The coach almost dies, but let’s eliminate their funding and make the team raise the money. But make it easy for them to get the money. Scratch off lotto ticket? Curtis’s “Go to Miami — Get Out of Minden” fund! Wait, no, let’s make it both! Set the final game in Miami, that’s ironical! Oh, make sure Jasmine’s sleazy, absent father comes back in the picture right before big game. Have him let her down. Won’t it seem weird that Jasmine takes sides with her uncle rather than her birth father? Who’m I kidding? It’s Ice Cube!
And it just keeps going like that. It’s like they just crammed in everything they ever saw in a movie before. It all culminates in the Big Game with lots of positive messages and a parade that saves the town somehow and a happy sad ending, yada, yada, yada, all that jazz. In fact, I was seriously expecting Jasmine to get off the bus after the big game and have her mother say, “By the way, I had cancer, but I beat it while you were gone. No worries!” The only thing missing was a retarded kid joining the team. My lady made an interesting point, that the movie was almost structured like a musical. It felt like people were just on the verge of breaking out in the Monorail song. There was even a scene in a diner with the black preacher talking about Main Street that just begged for a musical number. Had this been a musical, it would have been the perfect movie. Next time, next time.
The movie was directed by Fred Durst, the man responsible for Limp Bizkit and the rest of the rap-metal movement. I saw Fred Durst at Barnes and Noble in Los Angeles. He was all fat and old and tatted up with his little Durst-Bursters running around him and his plastically enhanced missus. He’s Fat Old Guy Mosh Pit now, and it shows. But I don’t blame him for this movie. The only mistake he made was layering every scene with Randy Newman-esque music. I mean, every scene. It was as if he were insecure people would know it was supposed to be a dramatic scene, so he just sprayed John Williams all over everything. There wasn’t much he could do with this, so he just overdid it. I would actually like to see him get a chance with some quality material, maybe some sort of indie thriller or horror before I dismiss him outright. I don’t think anyone could have saved this script. Even Chris Columbus would have probably thrown in a Muppet or something.
Brian Prisco is a warrior-poet from the valley of North Hollywood, by way of Philadelphia. He wastes most of his life in desk jobs, biding his time until he finally becomes an actor, a writer, or cannon fodder in the inevitable zombie invasion. He can be found shaking his fist and angrily shouting at clouds on his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.Once Upon a Time in the Projects
Film | August 25, 2008 | Comments ()