Directed by Fred Durst (of the band Limp Bizkit), The Longshots is a cookie-cutter feel good kids movie that seems like it was made by some faulty gadget stuck on autopilot. The movie’s plot, about a teenaged girl in Harvey, Illinois that played quarterback on her high school’s football team, is submerged beneath a heavy sheen of slapdash filmmaking. Only Keke Palmer’s (Akeelah and the Bee) performance as naturally gifted athlete Jasmine Plumber keeps the movie afloat in the face of it lacking sense of realism, humor or dynamics. Ice Cube curbs his already thin acting range as Jasmine’s knockabout Uncle Curtis who rises to the occasion to help lead Jasmine’s football team when their coach falls ill.
It’s impossible to talk about movies without taking into consideration the influence of their directors. The “auteur” stratagem for categorizing and analyzing directors whose original work carries identifiable themes and methods for working with actors and shooting conditions has ingrained itself into everyday discussion. But there’s a category of hack directors constantly being shoveled into Hollywood’s readymade system whose lack of fundamental competency insults the director’s job title with impunity. Such is the situation with Fred Durst, whose introduction into the Hollywood community comes as an exercise in remedial storytelling.
Durst never settles on whether Curtis or Jasmine is the protagonist of the piece, and puts the audience in the tedious position of waiting for one character to finally establish his or her dominance. It’s a waiting game that never pays off. It doesn’t help matters that Ice Cube is allowed to carry on his trademark monotone hangdog delivery that drags down every scene he’s in—and he’s in a lot of scenes.
The movie is ostensibly about members of an economically distressed American small town inspired by their local sports heroine to come together and make it the best place they can with the limited resources at hand. Nobody here has the common sense or motivation to look for a better life elsewhere. Everyone seems stuck in some naïve state of arrested development, with the possible exception of Coach Fisher (Matt Craven) who gets booted from the storyline to insure that Ice Cube can infect every bit of narrative space available. We get rah-rah community scenes in a church, in a Main Street bar and in the bleachers at football games, but there’s never any signification of reality or inner life for any of the characters. When the locals come together to raise funds for their football team to travel to Florida to compete in the upcoming “Super Bowl” championships, even the large cash amounts being contributed seem out of sync with everything we’ve been led to believe about these characters.
The Longshots is a movie with no regard for details. It’s an idea for a movie that was passed off on someone with an idea about wanting to direct a movie. It’s surprising that Keke Palmer fares as well as she does and a testament to her acting ability that she’s able to elevate a movie that threatens to fall apart at any minute. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that you can and should judge whether or not to see a movie based on its director. Personally, I hope to never have to suffer through a film that gives its directorial credit to Mr. Durst. MTW