Based on a true story The Longshots takes its inspiration from 11 year-old Illinois native Jasmine Plummer’s (Keke Palmer) incredible feat--becoming the only female quarterback ever in the Pop Warner football league. The film’s arc really revolves around the relationship between the young gridiron star and her down-on-his-luck Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube) a former high school football great who can’t seem to do anything right except keep his trouble-prone niece in line. With his own dreams on the field now reemerging in the form of Jasmine the two become an unlikely pair as he gets her to tryout for the all boys local team The Minden Browns. The skeptical coach (Matt Craven) becomes a believer watching her natural talent unfold. When he becomes ill the call goes out to Curtis to come in and help guide the team--now led by the unlikeliest of quarterbacks. In his recent family comedies Are We Done Yet? and Are We There Yet? Ice Cube (who started in gritty movies like Boyz N The Hood) seemed to be turning into the new Tim Allen a safe father figure that would be right at home in a Disney movie. Even though The Longshots is definitely PG it offers him an edgier role and a well-defined character to play for a change. Curtis Plummer is a lazy down and out ex-ballplayer whose passion for life and football have disappeared. Cube at the top of his game gets this guy and gives him three dimensions which makes his later scenes pay off all that much more. Perhaps it was having a real-life person to play that allowed Cube to stretch even in a rather formula vehicle such as this. The other key ingredient that makes Longshots work as well as it does is clearly Keke Palmer who made such a memorable debut in Akeelah and the Bee and confirms her promise as the feisty Jasmine. Together this twosome make The Longshots a pleasure to watch. Second feature by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst is no embarrassment as he clearly is serious about his new directing career and brings out all the action and comedy running through Nick Santora and Doug Atchison’s script. Getting a first-rate performance from Ice Cube and a sterling turn from Palmer proves he knows what he’s doing with actors which is no small task. The game scenes are well-staged and the football stuff seems authentic even though this story of a girl quarterback would not seem that believable if it weren’t true. Still no sports movie cliché is left unturned in The Longshots--right from the title to the end credits--but for some reason it doesn’t seem to matter. There are generous doses of heart and soul on display here making The Longshots a winner for the whole family.
Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) is a precocious 11-year-old girl from South Central Los Angeles who acts tough and skips school but can actually spell like the dickens. She gains the attention of the school’s principal (Curtis Armstrong) who wants her to represent the school at the regional spelling bee but Akeelah balks deeming it too lame for her. Slowly but surely however she realizes her potential especially under the tutelage of a former English professor Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne). Now all she has to do is convince her mother (Angela Bassett) that her time isn’t being wasted try to earn a coveted spot at the Scripps National Spelling Bee and get her neighborhood to rally round her. There’s even a local drug dealer helping Akeelah memorize words. How sweet. What's Love Got to Do With It’s stars Fishburne and Bassett team up again to add instant credibility to the film. As Larabee Sir Laurence sports his usual stern persona pouring on the tough love as he gets Akeelah to realize she’s one smart cookie even while dealing with his own personal turmoil. The always good Bassett also does a nice job as the overworked mother just trying to do right by her kids. But the film rests squarely on little Palmer’s (Madea's Family Reunion) shoulders and she handles the burden well as Akeelah. She shows every emotion on her expressive face especially the concentration involved in spelling words like “pulchritude” and “prospicience” (look them up if don’t know what they mean; I had to). Writer/director Doug Atchison makes a decent attempt at the sports genre. Akeelah is a lot like all the rest but its also filled with plenty of heart and soul which keeps the momentum going. And thanks to last year’s documentary Spellbound and indie film The Bee Season Akeelah continues to shine light on the highly competitive spelling bees and the pressures it puts on its young contestants. But watching this film only reminded me of a better film of its ilk Searching for Bobby Fischer--about a sweet little boy with a big open heart who also happens to be a chess prodigy. Akeelah follows a very similar formula but lacks the flair and style Fischer possesses. Perhaps Atchison just needs a few more years experience.