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MOVIE REVIEW

'Longshots' fields a nice, likable team

August 22, 2008|Gary Goldstein | Special to The Times

Inspired by the true-life tale of 11-year-old Jasmine Plummer, the first female quarterback to compete in the Pop Warner Super Bowl, "The Longshots" is a gentle, audience-friendly drama that's sometimes too safe for its own good.

Given the edgy pedigrees of its chief architects -- star-producer Ice Cube, director (and Limp Bizkit frontman) Fred Durst and writer Nick San- tora ("The Sopranos," "Prison Break") -- it's surprising that the movie, despite its goal as family entertainment, doesn't exude more tension and pizazz (let's start with that generic score). That said, "The Longshots" is a likable enough Cinderella story, one whose heart is clearly in the right place, even if it winds up on its sleeve once too often.

Set in fictional Minden, Ill. (although shot in Louisiana), the film stars Cube as Curtis Plummer, a former high school football star relegated to working in the town's packaging plant until its untimely shuttering leaves him -- and the rest of the blue-collar burg -- up a creek without a paddle in sight. Curtis finds a lifeline, however, when he discovers that his bookish niece Jasmine (Keke Palmer) can throw a football like a champ.

After helping hone her skills, Curtis persuades the local Minden Browns' coaches (Matt Craven, Dash Mihok) to make the unlikely phenom a backup quarterback on their all-boys team. Jasmine, who initially has no interest in sports -- she wants to be the next Tyra Banks -- eventually gets with the program, wowing her dubious teammates with her dynamite arm. The rest is predictable but engaging, even if things get a bit diffused by the third act.

Cube fills the bill as the shaggy, aimless Curtis, a veritable ghost of glories past. It's not a particularly layered performance, but it works. As Jasmine, Palmer, so memorable in the underappreciated "Akeelah and the Bee," strikes a nice balance between self-conscious loner and eager team player, though the film tends to ditch her in favor of more Cube time. The supporting players, as well as various story strands, also get short shrift, amplifying this well-meaning film's semi-perfunctory feel. Not nearly a touchdown -- but not a fumble either.

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"The Longshots." MPAA rating: PG for some thematic elements, mild language and brief rude humor. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. In general release.

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