Review: ‘The Long Game’ (2024), starring Jay Hernandez, Julian Works, Jaina Lee Ortiz, Oscar Nuñez, Paulina Chávez, Cheech Marin and Dennis Quaid

May 20, 2024

by Carla Hay

José Julián (seated, second from left), Jay Hernandez (standing, at left) and Dennis Quaid (standing, at right) in “The Long Game” (Photo courtesy of Mucho Mas Media)

“The Long Game” (2024)

Directed by Julio Quintana

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Texas, in 1956, the dramatic film “The Long Game” (based on true events) features a Latin and white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A former military man, who works as a high school superintendent, takes a group of five teens from the high school and helps transform them into the first all-Hispanic golfing team to compete in a U.S. national golf tournament for high schoolers. 

Culture Audience: “The Long Game” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, sports underdog stories, and historical drama about race relations in America.

Miguel Angel Garcia, Christian Gallegos, Gregory Diaz IV, Julian Works and José Julián in “The Long Game” (Photo by Anita Gallón/Mucho Mas Media)

“The Long Game” follows a familiar formula of sports underdog movies based on true stories, but the cast’s admirable performances make this inspirational drama worth watching. Many viewers will learn something about the Mustangs golf team that broke racial barriers.

Directed by Julio Quintana, “The Long Game” was written by Quintana, Jennifer C. Stetson and Paco Farias. The movie’s adapted screenplay is based on Humberto G. Garcia’s 2010 non-fiction book “Mustang Miracle.” “The Long Game” had its world premuere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival, where it won the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award.

“The Long Game” begins by showing the mentor who’s the story’s main protagonist. It’s 1956, and upstanding JB Peña (played by Jay Hernandez), a former infantry soldier in the U.S. Marines, has moved with his loving and supportive wife Lucy Peña (played by Jaina Lee Ortiz) to the small city of Del Rio, Texas. Like many residents of Texas, JB is of Mexican American heritage. He was born in the United States. JB has taken a job as a superintendent at San Felipe High School.

But the real reason why JB (who is an avid golfer) wants to live in Del Rio is so he can join the prestigious Del Rio Golf Club, which is considered one of the best private golf clubs in Texas. The problem for JB is that this is a country club that has white members only, and they don’t want to let anyone who isn’t white join the club. Like many places that have racist policies, no one who’s responsible for those policies comes right and out and admits that they’re racist.

When JB inquires with club leader Don Glenn (played by Richard Robichaux) about joining the club, Don tells JB what JB’s chances are of being accepted into the club: “I have to consider other members, and they’re just not used to seeing a Mexican on the golf course.” The only people who aren’t white who are allowed on the golf course for this racist club are those who are in subservient roles doing low-paying menial jobs, such as caddies, food servers and sanitation workers.

One of these caddies is a teenager named Joe Treviño (played by Julian Works), the rebellious and unpredictable leader of a tight-knit group of five friends who are all Hispanic. An early scene in the movie shows Joe in a street alley, chasing off three white teenage boys and throwing a fence picket at them because the white teenagers were harassing him.

Joe’s friends see the commotion when they arrive at the scene. Joe tells his pals about the fleeing teenage bullies: “They didn’t call me a wetback. They didn’t call me anything, but I bet they were thinking it.”

The other four teens in Joe’s circle of friends are dependable Lupe Felan (played by José Julián); obedient Gene Vasquez (played by Gregory Diaz IV); friendly Mario Lomas (played by Christian Gallegos); and easygoing Felipe Romero (played by Miguel Angel Garcia). Gene is the one in the group who is the most likely to follow rules and is the most nervous about getting into trouble.

Later, while Joe is working at the club’s golf course, Joe notices that a young white man, whose father is a club member, has kept the cash that was meant to be a tip for one of the Hispanic caddies. As revenge, Joe urinates on the privileged family’s car when the father and son aren’t looking.

JB first sees Joe and his pals under less-than-ideal circumstances on the day that Joe is driving to meet with Don Glenn for the first time at the Del Rio Golf Club. Joe and his friends are practicing golf on a field when Joe hits a golf ball that accidentally smashes JB’s car window and causes a minor cut on JB’s face. The teens run away when they see the damage that was caused. JB decides to keep his appointment with Don Glenn anyway, despite JB’s noticeable bleeding injury. This is the meeting where JB gets rejected to join the Del Rio Golf Club.

JB has an ally in the meeting: Frank Mitchell (played by Dennis Quaid), who served in the same U.S. Marines infantry as JB. Frank is a member of the Del Rio Golf Club and is the one who set up the meeting with JB and Don. Frank’s girlfriend Gayle Baker (played by Gillian Vigman) works as a secretary at this country club. Frank is disappointed that JB won’t be accepted into the country club. However, there’s nothing Frank can do about it except voice his disapproval about this racism, in an era when the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not exist yet, and it was legal for businesses to discriminate based on race.

After the window-breaking incident, JB sees the Joe and his friends again at a school assembly, where JB is introduced as the new superintendent. That’s how JB finds out these these teens are students at the same school where he works. JB confronts the five teens, who don’t deny that they were involved in this accidental vandalism.

JB is impressed enough with Joe’s powerful golf swing to ask Joe and his friends to let JB watch them play golf. Joe is the best golfer in the group. When JB sees that the five pals have raw, untapped talent as golfers, JB comes up with an idea to make up for the teens being involved in breaking his car window: The teens can either mow his lawn on Saturdays, or they can become the first members of the San Felipe High School golf team, which will be called the Mustangs.

At first, all of the pals except for Joe choose the golf option. That’s because Joe’s father Adelio Treviño (played by Jimmy Gonzales) thinks golf is a game for pampered wimps. Adelio expects Joe to follow in his footsteps and skip college to have a working-class job. Later, Adelio does something extreme to show Joe how much Adelio disapproves of Joe wanting to play golf.

Joe changes his mind about joining the golf team after JB has a heart-to-heart talk with Joe and asks Joe what Joe really wants to do with his life. Joe joins the team, but he keeps it a secret from hs father Adelio. Joe later starts dating a classmate named Daniela (played by Paulina Chávez), who wants to become a writer and join a university writing program in Austin, Texas. Daniela thinks that Joe should get a college education in Austin too.

San Felipe High School doesn’t have the money to fund the new golf team; any coach of the team will have to be an unpaid volunteer. JB can’t quit his full-time superintendent job because he needs the money, and he doesn’t have time to be the golf team’s coach. And so, JB asks retired Frank to be the team’s coach. Frank agrees. JB is the school’s team sponsor and essentially has the role of assistant coach. Joe has a volatile temper, so Lupe is made the team’s captain.

The Mustangs play against all-white teams. JB and the Mustangs experience the expected racism, including racist comments and blatant exclusion or unfair treatment based on race. At one of the Mustangs’ first golf games, a white official reacts with surprise when he sees JB in person and says JB looks different than the official expected because JB sounded “American” on the phone. JB politely tells this racist that JB is American because he was born in the United States. Other racist reactions to JB and the team are much more hostile.

JB is fully aware that the Mustangs will be treated as outsiders by racists, so he advises the team members to assimilate when they’re in places where they will encounter racism: “I don’t want to hear Spanish on the [golf] course,” JB says. “We’ve got to look and act like we belong here.”

Frank is a white ally who sticks up for the team as much as possible. Later in the story, a law official named Judge Milton Cox (played by Brett Cullen) makes a huge decision that affects the Mustangs. JB also has to make some important decisions that will decide the fate of the team.

San Felipe High School’s Principal Guerra (played by Oscar Nuñez) is supportive and mostly stays out of the team’s way. Principal Guerra likes to appear tougher than he really is to the students. In an amusing scene, he tells JB that he doesn’t want the students to see him smile because the students are less likely to take the principal seriously if he’s seen smiling or laughing.

JB is also friendly with a Del Rio Golf Club groundskeeper named Pollo (played by Cheech Marin), who secretly lets the Mustangs practice on the property during off-hours when no one will catch them. Most of the movie’s comic relief come from Pollo and his wisecracks. JB and Pollo (and Frank, to a certain extent) treat the Mustangs as their surrogate sons. Because of the racism issues, JB and Pollo are able to speak to the team with more knowledge and experience about being Hispanic in places dominated by white people who are often racist.

“The Long Game” has some very good scenes that show an appreciation for the sport of golf. However, viewers shouldn’t expect absolute accuracy in all of the golf scenes, since the movie’s actors aren’t professional golfers, and the Mustangs are still supposed to be learning how to play golf. It’s a sports movie that’s not just about learning the game but also about learning life lessons.

The movie’s performances (with Hernandez and Works as the standouts) give “The Long Game” an emotional credibility and that makes it a solid movie, even if viewers know exactly how the story is going to end. (There are very few surprises along the way.) It’s not a groundbreaking movie, but “The Long Game” is a worthy tribute to the real-life golfers who overcame big obstacles. These are stories that need to be told and stand as examples of what perseverance and courage can be accomplish.

Mucho Mas Media released “The Long Game” in U.S. cinemas on April 12, 2024.

Review: ‘The Lost City’ (2022), starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum

March 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in “The Lost City” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“The Lost City” (2022)

Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of the world, the comedy film “The Lost City” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A famous, jaded and reclusive romance novelist is kidnapped by a wealthy treasure hunter, and the male model for her book covers goes on a mission to rescue her. 

Culture Audience: “The Lost City” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s comedy skills, but they are the biggest assets to this formulaic movie.

Daniel Radcliffe and Héctor Aníbal in “The Lost City” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Completely predictable on every level, “The Lost City” is saved by the considerable comedic talents of its starring cast members. It’s breezy and lightweight entertainment that doesn’t try to be anything else. It’s the first slapstick comedy film in years for many of “The Lost City” stars. And while the movie is not a complete triumph, it’s not a total embarrassment either. “The Lost City” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

Directed by brothers Aaron Nee and Adam Nee, “The Lost City” checks all the boxes we’ve come to expect in predictable romantic comedies. The female protagonist and the male protagonist have personality clashes and try not to pretend there’s sexual tension between them. (Or they have a platonic friendship where they pretend that they’re not going to get romantically involved.) There’s usually at least one sidekick who’s a best friend or close colleague. And then, there’s some reason why the bickering, would-be couple have a reason to keep running into each other and/or they get thrown together for a common goal.

In “The Lost City” (written by the Nee brothers, Dana Fox and Orien Uziel), the basic concept is that prickly and reclusive author Loretta Sage (played by Sandra Bullock), a widow whose specialty is romantic adventure novels, reluctantly goes on a book tour to promote her latest book called “The Lost City.” Loretta is not pleased at all to find out that the guy who is the hunky model for her book covers will be on this book tour too. Loretta thinks that he’s shallow, vain and no match for her intellect.

The name he uses as a model is Dash (played by Channing Tatum), but his real name is Alan McMahon. And he wears a long-haired blonde wig for his modeling assignments as Dash. Dash/Alan is as freewheeling as Loretta (whose real name is Angela) is uptight. Loretta’s support team includes her loyal and outspoken book publisher Beth Hatten (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Loretta’s eager-to-please social media manager Allison (played by Patti Harrison), who has the Nervous Nellie role in the movie.

At a meet-and-greet appearance with Loretta’s mostly female fans, Dash gets a lot more attention than Loretta, just as she feared and predicted. (Bowen Yang has a cameo as a Q&A moderator named Ray.) Loretta doesn’t have long to gripe about Dash’s popularity though, because she’s kidnapped from the hotel by a wealthy superfan named Abigail Fairfax (played by Daniel Radcliffe), who takes himself, some of his goons and Loretta by private plane to a tropical island, where he expects her to find the treasure that she wrote about in “The Lost City.” Alan feels bad about his conflicts with Loretta, so he decides to come to her rescue.

Dash/Alan recruits a rescue expert named Jack Trainer (played by Brad Pitt), who is ridiculously over-the-top with his action hero stunts. Jack isn’t in the movie for long, for every reason that you think that an A-list star like Pitt wouldn’t add his usual eight-figure actor’s salary to this movie’s production budget, if he had more screen time. More shenanigans ensue in a jungle, and the movie ends exactly how most people will think it ends.

One of the main reasons why “The Lost City” is tolerable despite its utter triteness is because of the comedic timing and chemistry of Bullock and Tatum, who thankfully do not take themselves seriously at all. Their characters’ back-and-forth banter isn’t very witty, but they do land some memorable zingers here and there. During one of their many arguments, Loretta tells Alan in a prickly manner why she can’t give sexist condescension: “I’m a woman. I can’t mansplain anything.” Alan snaps back: “I’m a feminist, and I think a woman can do anything a man can do.”

Radcliffe also has some amusing moments, as does Randolph, although Randolph does have the type of “You go, girl!” dialogue that’s kind of a cringeworthy stereotype of an African American female sidekick. Oscar Nuñez as has an inconsequential role as a man named Oscar, who becomes infatuated with Beth. “The Lost City” is exactly what it needs to be for a movie that wisely kept its total running time to a little under two hours. (Stick around for a surprise during the mid-credits scene.) Unless someone is in an extremely bad mood when watching “The Lost City,” there are some laughs to be had with this entertaining but insubstantial comedy film.

Paramount Pictures will release “The Lost City” in U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022, with sneak previews in select cinemas on March 23, 2022.

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