Blame Rocky for the state of sports movies. The come-from-behind-to-win-or-almost-win the big game was used very effectively in the first (and most recent) Rocky movies but unfortunately filmmakers have been using that set-up as a plot template ever since. That’s more than thirty years of inspirational coaches and underdog players. The sports and that faces change, it’s just the story that remains the essentially same. The Longshots is the latest movie to recycle the tired formula to tell the real-life story of the first girl to compete in the Pop Warner football tournament.
Ice Cube is Curtis Plummer, a former high school football star whose dreams of a professional career were cut short by injury. On a downward spiral since his accident, he rediscovers a sense of purpose by molding his socially awkward niece (Akeelah and the Bee’s Keke Palmer) into the star quarterback for the local team, the Minden Browns. When she leads the team to the Pop Warner Super Bowl she not only gives Curtis a new lease on life, but inspires her entire hometown.
The most amazing thing about The Longshots isn’t the story—we’ve seen and heard it all before—nor is it the performances—Ice Cube is fine and Palmer is engagingly natural; no, the most striking thing about the movie is its director. If the name Fred Durst sounds familiar it’s because maybe you spent some time slam dancing to his nu metal band Limp Bizkit’s hit Re-arranged or maybe you downloaded his notorious sex tape off the net. The rock star and bon vivant of the 90s has matured into family friendly filmmaker in the new millennium.
The man who once choked out lyrics ripe with scatological references and used the Anglo-Saxon word for sexual intercourse 48 times in one three minute and fifty second tune has mellowed into the kind of director that has his characters say things like “If we got heart we got everything we need!” He shows an unexpected light touch, but by the time we get to the inevitable “What are you running from,” speech the build-up of clichés threatens to squash any goodwill the movie garnered in its better moments.
The Longshots isn’t a horrible movie, it’s just really average. Durst does his job adequately, giving the whole thing a kind of music video slickness, but despite Palmer’s efforts and Ice Cube’s likeability the whole thing feels like something we’ve seen before, and is quite forgettable.