To make a successful sports film, sometimes it’s better to have an exciting game in this film’s foreground. Of all the sports, golf is not the most exciting springboard to tell a story. However there have been good golf films in the past such as the terrific, critically-acclaimed Happy Gilmore (1996) (joking). Director Julio Quintana’s film The Long Game tells an important story in golf history concerning an underdog team of Mexican-American teens and the hardships they face on their road to victory. If only the film itself was as great and inspiring as its real-life story.
The Long Game begins in 1956’s Del Rio, Texas, with superintendent JB Peña (Jay Hernandez) putting his best foot forward and applying for a membership at the prestigious, all-white Del Rio Country Club. He is denied a membership, unmistakably because of his race. Before long, Peña meets a group of teens at his high school (that are also caddies at the prestigious club) who have an interest in golfing. With his ex-military, brother-in-arms friend Frank (Dennis Quaid) by his side, Peña decides to create a high school golf club with these boys called The Mustangs. From there, he dedicates himself to giving these kids a fighting chance in a world where they’re neither welcome nor respected.
In many areas where The Long Game could be better, the acting is probably the film’s most polarizing factor. Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad) does solid work as the inspiring Peña and tries his best to carry the film, but generic dialogue and melodramatic sequences cause his performance efforts to come up short. There’s also his lack of chemistry with co-star Dennis Quaid (Innerspace). For a dynamic duo like these two, you would expect fireworks, but that is just not the case. Humorous moments between the two characters fall flat and moments of heartwarming connection come off as too sappy. However, there is much better chemistry among the young actors than the top-billing vets. In particular, Julian Works (Endings, Beginnings) does solid work as the rebellious, cocky Joe Treviño. He carries good chemistry with both Hernandez and Quaid and shines most when his character is learning the game alongside his fellow golfmates. His character, however, does fall short in scenes with his love interest Daniela (Paulina Chávez). These scenes distract from the main action of the story and are unnecessarily melodramatic at best. Another great gem in the cast is Brett Cullen (The Replacements), who delivers a terrific, villainous performance as Judge Milton Cox, the one man who stands in the way between Peña, his boys, and their quest for greatness. This character’s despicable disdain for these young boys strictly because of their race is made palpable by Cullen’s great character work. However, it’s not a good look when the best part of the cast is its villain.
The Long Game has the potential to be a great film with a great real-life story at its core. Unfortunately, the direction and writing does not live up to the narrative’s amazing origin story of persistence and resilience. Julio Quintana may mean well with his approach to this specific story, but chaotic direction and sloppy editing dull the inspiring power of this tale. Montages of the young men perfecting the game itself are played to an exasperating effect, the same kind of montage repeating itself in different ways throughout and serving as filler rather than as necessary to the plot. The writing isn’t that much better. There is dialogue in scenes between two characters that, instead of coming off as motivating and heartfelt, is instead forced and corny. Moments where the film tries to garnish charm unfortunately come up short and moments of sincere emotion feel rushed. There are some gems of dialogue said by a character here and there. One of which comes from Pollo (played by a humorous Cheech Marin (From Dusk Till Dawn)), an employee at the golf club who presents a great golf allegory of life to Peña. He states “sometimes you land on the green, sometimes on the bunker, but you play it as it lies.” This landed in the bunker being so by-the-numbers.
To learn more about the making of The Long Game, be sure to check out EoM contributor Lindsey Dunn’s one-on-one discussion with director Julio Quintana.
Screening during SXSW 2023.
For more information, head to the official SXSW The Long Game webpage.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews
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