by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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One thing that I can say about rapper/actor Ice Cube’s business acumen is that he’s managed to break away from his cult-status trio of early films (Friday, Next Friday, Friday After Next) and move toward his current delightful family film that appeals to the masses.
The Longshots stars KeKe Palmer, who plays Jasmine Plummer, and Ice Cube, who plays her uncle, Curtis. Both are forced to bond because Jasmine’s mom (Tasha Smith) has to work long hours, and Jasmine is growing bored with just reading and hanging already the house alone.
The Longshots is based on a true story about local Harvey, Illinois, girl Jasmine Plummer, and it’s fitting that a local young actor, Palmer (who’s from Robbins, Illinois), has been cast in the role. The story is about Plummer’s historic stint as a quarterback on the Junior Pee Wee team of the Harvey Colts and how she led that team to the Pop Warner youth football nationals about four years ago.
Smith plays Jasmine’s mother, Claire, and it’s refreshing to see her in a serene role, where she simply plays a hard working, single mom trying to keep everything together, as opposed to the sassy, eye-rolling “sistuh gurl” roles for which she’s become most recognized.
Uncle Curtis plays a nurturing role where he teaches Jasmine to play football—good enough to be the only girl on the Minden Browns football team. He eyes light up, once she’s on the field.
Palmer, who won audience members’ hearts in Akeelah and the Bee, which starred Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, also appeared with Samuel L. Jackson in The Cleaner; William H. Macy in The Wool Cap and Queen Latifah in Beauty Shop 2.
The movie is set in a small, dilapidated factory town of Minden, Illinois, where most residents remember the good old days.
Palmer shines in the movie and brings a certain authenticity to the role, just as she did in Akeelah and the Bee. In that film, she had to learn to spell using a structured method, just as in The Longshots, she’s learning to play football.
It’s funny just watching the first time Jasmine suits up in the football gear, trying to figure out where everything goes and how to manage to get it on her body. But she’s quickly discards the jock strap that’s been given her. She also wants to play No. 11, the number that her uncle once played.
Jasmine starts off shy, withdrawn and isolated from her classmates, trying to find her niche, as she dreams of becoming a model. She’s reluctant to even learn how to play football. “I’m a girl, and girls don’t play football,” she tells her uncle.
As she becomes more open, she also looks out for her uncle. She makes a deal with him that she’ll seriously train, if he’ll agree to ask her teacher Ronnie Macer, played by Jill Marie Jones, out to one of her first games. But this would also involve Uncle Curtis finding a clean shirt to wear.
Jasmine isn’t quickly put into play. Of course, the young boys on the team give her trouble, until they witness her magic arm, when she plays quarterback, because she can “throw some football.”
Eventually, team spirit hits the town, whose residents include Garrett Morris as the preacher and Michael Coylar as one of the crew who hangs around Ice Cube doing not much of anything.
Everybody rallies together and raises money for the Browns to go to the football finals in Miami, a fact that’s not lost on Jasmine, as Uncle Curtis has dreams of his own of saving enough money to move to Miami.
They all work together to spruce up the town when the team hosts its first major home game. It seems the town needed a pick-me-up, also—like something to look forward to that made the residents feel important again.
Uncle Curtis has issues of his own; he’s living a hardscrabble existence, but he cherishes his football—so much so that he carries it around wherever he goes. This probably serves as the thread to keep him attached to better days. He also tries to explain to Jasmine that her father, while a good guy when he was young, isn’t very supportive of her now. He wants her to concentrate on what she’s doing, instead of latching on to a dream that her father will suddenly come back into her life.
Her dreams do come true, just fleetingly, as he shows up right before the team goes to Miami, promises her he’ll be there, only to let her down and momentarily knock her for a loop.
The movie was well received at the screening, with audiences rooting for both the fictional and real-life Jasmine Plummer. “I really liked when Ice Cube came around and stepped in and took care of her,” said Janice Morris, of Rosemont, Illinois. “It showed me that instead of being down and out, you can do whatever you want.” Morris added that she loved Palmer in Akeelah and the Bee. “To see her in this one; she’s all grown up, I wanted to cry with her and hug her at the same time.”
Palmer played in the Emmy-nominated TV movie The Wool Cap, alongside William H. Macy, a role for which she earned an NAACP Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild nomination. She has also had guest appearances on ER and Law and Order.
Palmer, 14, also has a singing career, as well as projects on cable television. Hers is a long career, so far, after having started out in Hollywood at the age of 9.
The Longshots brought to mind for me, since I must use a reference, Million Dollar Baby, in which Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman train Hillary Swank to be the best boxer she can be.
Jasmine is committed to the game, once she gets reaches her full potential and gets a taste of victory on the football field. I’m sure Palmer’s probably much like that in real life—there’s no stopping her now.
The Longshots opened August 22 in the Chicago area; it’s a must see!
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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