LOS ANGELES, November 20, 2013 – Imagine tying your shoes with just one hand. How about driving your car with only that hand? Or doing just about everything else in your life with only your right-hand, when you were actually born left-handed?
It would be tough to even get close to just what life is like for a 6’ 9” high school basketball player named Kevin Laue. But the film about him, “Long Shot: The Kevin Laue Story,” takes you there. Like that famous, fictional sports hero named Rocky Balboa, the real-life Kevin Laue just wants to prove that he belongs in the game like all the other guys.
To say that “Long Shot” is the “Rocky” of documentary films is no stretch of the imagination. For Mr. Laue has the audacious goal of playing Division I NCAA College Basketball, which is something that no one-armed person has ever done before.
Mr. Laue was born with only his right arm after his umbilical cord became wrapped around his left arm and neck in utero. “Long Shot” captures the inspirational and determined story of a young man who not only overcame great odds before he was born, but tackled even greater odds later on in life.
The four-year journey that Director Franklin Martin takes this movie’s audience on may seem familiar to anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning “Hoop Dreams” or other college basketball or sports films. But on one key level, “Long Shot” is unique. Whereas most films in this genre are about star players trying to make it to college basketball en route to the pros, this film’s subject, Kevin Laue, emerges to make a refreshing break from that tried and true game plan. His goal to play big-time college basketball is not only decidedly modest, but seems almost impossible.
There is a humility and sincerity within Mr. Laue and this film that will likely win over even the most cynical of sports fans or regular moviegoers. We see Mr. Laue initially as the goofy, braces-wearing high school kid who doesn’t say much. But then we watch him grow over time into the star player who misses the game-winning shot and then can’t stop apologizing for “failing” his team.
We also glimpse a determined young man who must compete and continually reach deeper into himself to find the courage to plow on for another day and another practice.
Proving conventional thinking wrong has never looked so difficult, yet become so rewarding. Mr. Laue wants to earn his way through basketball without sympathy or special accommodations while being treated the same as all the other players. After watching this film, you may wonder why you’ve been slacking on taking that daily jog around the block.
As a film, “Long Shot” is a slow build, but draws the viewer in by letting the journey unfold under its own power. There are no staged, overplayed big scenes, perhaps because there is plenty of drama already embedded in this story as Mr. Laue must prove skeptics wrong time after time.
(Official trailer below:)
Some of the key interviews with figures from the basketball world, particularly UCLA Coach Ben Howland, help ground the film in reality and keep it from approaching “hero-worship,” which is frequently a clear and present danger in sports-oriented films. Contrasting with this, however, watching an array of talented high school basketball players do with two hands what Mr. Laue must do with one in this film makes his on-screen effort that much more impressive.
There is a key story thread in this film that involves young Kevin’s relationship with his deceased father. While that relationship is indeed of vital importance to Kevin and the film, however, it ends up seeming not quite as important to the audience watching this film. That is not a knock on Kevin, his father or the film itself. But the sheer, instinctive skepticism—some might call it prejudice—that’s aroused when evaluating the ability of such a highly-talented hoopster to play at the big-time level with one-hand is actually what drives this film.
Kevin’s challenge to overcome the odds and the emotional toll he incurs pursuing his dream is the film’s real hook. In particular, the scenes of Kevin and the other players at the Fork Union Military Academy prep school are quite powerful and add much to the intensity of “Long Shot.”
Additionally, peering behind the NCAA basketball recruiting curtain and hearing Mr. Laue’s coach flatly state that college coaches are loathe to risk their jobs on a one-armed kid cuts through any romanticism one has about college athletics. This is where supposedly dreamy, fairy-tale business of college basketball that’s sold to fans confronts the reality of the ultimate March Madness Cinderella story…and comes up wanting. Encountering this dilemma and other moral and physical contradictions in this film helps make “Long Shot” an excellent and surprisingly educational experience for non-sports fans as well as hoops-junkies.
There is a great scene in this film that should be singled out. It occurs when Mr. Laue gets to meet President George W. Bush in person. No matter what one’s political opinion might be, this is a genuinely joyful and heartwarming moment. Plus, it is also the perfect set-up for the rest of the film.
“Long Shot” closes with an update on Mr. Laue’s life plus an epilogue that will reward you for having taken ninety-three minutes of your time to view this somewhat unheralded movie.
If you’re considering a family expedition to catch this film, it should be noted that it’s rated PG-13 for some foul language and minor sexually suggestive comments. However, taken as a whole, “Long Shot” is worth attending and covering your kid’s ears for those few moments, just for the sheer inspiration this film will provide.
Rating: ***½ (3 ½ out of 4 stars)
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