DVD Review: The Longshots (2008)

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Who knew that Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst, who once sang about how much he wanted to rip someone's head off in "Break Stuff" or confessed that he did it all for the "Nookie" to keep "Rollin'" had it in him to direct a heartfelt, touching family movie? I certainly didn't but was delighted to be proven wrong with the refreshing and uplifting film, The Longshots.

Another in a long line of true sports stories-- Longshots stars Akeelah and the Bee's talented young actress Keke Palmer. While the young phenom she played in Akeelah was the brainy spelling champ, this time she shows us her athletic side by portraying eleven-year-old Jasmine Plummer. Plummer, the first female quarterback in the fifty-six year history of Pop Warner's league, ultimately rallied the hearts of everyone in her small town of Minden, Illionis when she took her team to Warner's Super Bowl.

In a nice change of pace for rapper/actor Ice Cube, he becomes Jasmine's unlikely mentor and father figure. As her unemployed, slacker uncle Curtis, we first encounter Cube's character as he's still having trouble getting over his mother's death and spends his days playing Backgammon and drinking beer, all the while putting any spare change he can wrangle up into a box he labels "Get Outta Minden Fund." While the box also contains sunny postcards of his dream relocation of Miami-- more than anything, we get the feeling that the former high school football star Curtis just wants a second chance to play the game, even if it's vicariously through his niece.

A bit of a shy bookworm who's endlessly teased by the cliquish, trendy girls in her middle school, Jasmine spends far too much time alone as her hardworking mother has to take longer shifts at the local diner to make ends meet and her deadbeat father has disappeared from her life. And unfortunately, yet true to most kids who've been abandoned, Jasmine endlessly hopes he'll return, going as far as to compulsively wear his wristwatch twenty-four hours a day.

When her mom encourages Jasmine to sign up for an after school activity, the girls laugh her out of joining a fashion club in her quest to become a model. Retreating once again to her solitude and books, soon Jasmine's mom manages to bribe her uncle Curtis into spending more time with his niece after school. While initially they get off to a rocky start as he forgets to feed her dinner and manages to lose her for the better part of an evening when she storms off in frustration, soon as a last straw she throws a football back to him in the park and he notices her natural ability to fire it straight to his fingertips.

Inspired for what seems to be the first time in his life since high school, Curtis begins training Jasmine to become the ultimate quarterback. And after having to prove both the other coaches and her eventual male teammates wrong, Jasmine soon becomes the quarterback for Pop Warner's Minden, Illinois team.

Of course, I grant you that sports films are a dime a dozen as they follow a set paradigm and manage to continuously comfort us again and again by serving up a much needed dose of optimism, especially in these trying times. However, this being said, The Longshots benefits where others have failed in not just telling a story that is true but by nearly making the football secondary in lieu of developing fully realized and heartfelt characters. Additionally in a rare change of pace for the genre, it's awe-inspiring to see the tale of a young woman who despite being athletic is still very much feminine as she's trained via an unorthodox and hilarious "hit the diva" target practice you'll need to see to believe.

Moreover, we can't help but become moved as Jasmine discovers not only her self-confidence as well as finding and choosing her own father figure in the form of her uncle Curtis, which especially appealed to the director as the adopted Durst notes on the DVD that he could fully relate to the script and was drawn in by the familial "love story." Likewise, in choosing to include so much of the eccentricities of the small, tight-knit yet broken down community that has been hit very hard by the same dire situations facing all of us, Durst manages to really make his story memorable by making a great character driven and community celebration film disguised as an average sports picture.

Arriving on DVD and Blu-ray shelves on December 2 from Dimension Home Entertainment, Genius Products, and The Weinstein Company, Longshots' DVD contains some truly worthwhile special features that go beyond simple promotional coverage to include separate interviews with Durst, Ice Cube, and the amazing Palmer. Additionally, we're served up a great featurette that interviews the real Jasmine Plummer and her relatives who we still find setting high goals for herself, yet remaining intelligent, grounded, and witty when discussing what it was like to see her life become a feature film. And although you couldn't ask this reviewer to explain even the fundamentals of the game of football, I can promise you that when it comes to the movie, The Longshots manages to score a touchdown.