If preeminent rap-rock jackass/backward-baseball-hat enthusiast Fred Durst and former NWA badass Ice Cube had announced that they were making a movie together at the height of Limp Bizkit's fame, few would have predicted that said film would be a PG, girl-powered, inspirational football drama based on a true story. But Ice Cube long ago traded a lucrative image as AmeriKKKa's most wanted for an even more lucrative new persona as a kid-friendly family-comedy fixture, and Limp Bizkit hasn't released a full-length album in five years. And for a collaboration between two music superstars legendary for their sneering attitude, The Longshots is notable mainly for its complete lack of edge. There's nothing about the film's workmanlike, achingly conventional direction that says "Fred Durst." Thank God.
Ice Cube brings his usual gruff authority to the role of a high-school football star reduced to drinking tall cans of cheap beer and loitering around a small Illinois town where the factory jobs left ages ago, taking optimism and dreams with them. In spite of a look that could charitably be described as "homeless chic," Cube scores a gig babysitting niece Keke Palmer (Akeelah And The Bee), a moody bookworm and social outcast. But the gray cloud hovering over the depressive pair begins to lift once Cube discovers that his niece boasts a cannon for an arm and a surprising gift for football. Hey, if a mule can kick field goals, there's no reason a girl can't lead a Pop Warner team to glory.
Durst and screenwriters Nick Santora and Doug Atchison give their heartwarming true story the obligatory Hollywood gloss, and the overbearing score hammers home every emotion. Still, Cube and Palmer have a nice, unforced chemistry, and Durst opens up the story so that it's as much about a struggling town as a family on the comeback trail. The Longshots is a sports movie like every other, but the excellent, lived-in performances of Cube and Palmer make it a mildly affecting look at a plucky young woman who threatens to give "throwing like a girl" a good name.