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Longest Yard, The (2005)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/05/05 20:18:00

"Hey! It's just like the original, only this time, it's not any good!"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

How do you top the greatest football movie ever made? The short answer: you don’t.

I’m referring to “The Longest Yard,” the 1974 Burt Reynolds bonecrusher that remains a sports flick for the ages. It got the remake treatment once before, with the 2001 effort “Mean Machine” (in which football got replaced by soccer, and the fun got replaced by yawns); that film simply didn’t work. And neither does this brand new redo, which keeps the original title but shoves in everything that’s been awful about every Adam Sandler movie ever made.

(To clarify: I love “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” far more than I should. “The Wedding Singer?” Not very good, but workable fun. Everything after that? Pure, unwatchable crap. And interchangeable, too - there’s no joke in “Mr. Deeds” that couldn’t be recycled and shoved into “Anger Management.” Sandler’s comedies are the same big lame movie; only the plots change.)

Somehow, somebody got the idea that Sandler could convincingly play a pro quarterback, and thus, a remake was born. The star recruited his “Anger” and “50 First Dates” director, Peter Segal, for helming duties, while newcomer Sheldon Turner gets a crack at updating the screenplay for modern times. (Which is to say, newcomer Sheldon Turner got a crack at writing a bunch of material that was tossed aside in favor of Sandler’s wisecracks and Rob Schneider cameos.)

If you haven’t seen the original (and shame on you if you haven’t - go buy the DVD today), the film involves hotheaded ex-quarterback Paul Crewe (Sandler), banned from the league for throwing a game, who gets arrested following a wild drunken joyride. (Side note regarding the film’s sloppiness: Paul’s nickname in the NFL was either “Wrecking” Crewe or “Motley” Crewe, depending on which scene you’re watching. But I digress.) He’s sent to a nasty ol’ prison in Texas, at the request of the football-lovin’ warden (James Cromwell), whose guard squad is the pride of the penitentiary league. Long story short, Crewe gets to assemble a team of inmates for the guards to play, and the inmates realize that here’s their chance to beat the living snot out of the abusive sonsabitches.

The original film was driven by an electric sense of antiestablishment feelings, a Stick-It-To-The-Man-ism that gave an extra oomph to every on-field slam. Here, this feeling is diluted beyond reason; this remake exists not to stick it to anyone, but merely to show a bunch of crunches you might see on any generic highlights reel seen on any generic local sports show. You see, the story’s core is there, unchanged, but the added jokiness (the guards, mostly played by former football and wrestling stars, exist mostly for the Sandler-esque punchlines, like the bit which has one guard taking estrogen instead of steroids, just so he can act all “girly” for the rest of the movie, yawn) removes the threat. Only Cromwell’s stern warden and a head guard (William Fichtner) are spared the yuks. The result? The foundation of the story gets, if not removed, then at least too cracked to remain usable.

The film’s endless wackiness - the estrogen gag being merely one example - is what kills it in the end. There’s no sense of grit, no glorious vulgarity (this one’s a cautious PG-13, a far cry from the original’s R rating), no threat. This isn’t a movie that might hurt you. This is a goofy Adam Sandler comedy. Bring the kids! Sigh. What this story deserves is screw-you-and-your-whole-family-too. What it gets is gee-isn’t-Tracy-Morgan-funny-as-a-gay-guy? Sigh again.

How dangerous does this film fail to be? Consider the endless supply of McDonald’s product placement, courtesy a character obsessed with the fast food franchise. After a handful of McThis and McThat jokes, it becomes blatantly clear that we have a movie unwilling to take a single risk.

More failure: the warden’s secretary, played by Bernadette Peters in the original, is here played by Cloris Leachman. Why? Because to Sandler and Company, an oversexed secretary isn’t enough - no, we need a very old oversexed secretary. It’s an idea so dreadfully stupid that not even the brilliant Leachman could pull it off.

And yet more failure: If you’ve seen the original, then you’ll remember a point before the big game in which things get very, very serious. (I will say nothing further for spoilers’ sake.) This same plotline finds its way into the remake, and watching it arrive, I couldn’t help but feel the filmmakers’ reluctance to include it. It’s remarkably out of place in a story so lighthearted, yet rather than dumping it, as they should have done, they shove it right on in there, no matter how clunky the shift from goofy to somber becomes. This is a scene that falls apart on every conceivable level, and the fact that nobody bothered to change it shows a giant lack both in originality and in an understanding of basic storytelling.

I reluctantly give the film bonus points, however, for two reasons. First is the casting of Burt Reynolds and fellow “Yard” vet Ed Lauter, who manage to bring up great memories of a great film. Reynolds, whose character here is not the old Paul Crewe but enough like him to give this remake a hint of sequel, brings to this new version exactly the kind of piss-off mentality it desperately needs. Seeing him here, walking all over the stars, is refreshing, and anytime he appears on screen, things don’t quite feel as lousy.

My second reason is that the game sequences, despite their ineptness story-wise, are very well put together. When the cast stops talking and lets the action play out, things do, if only briefly, manage to get fun. (That said, in my notes, I had written, in reference to the obnoxious play-by-play provided: “CHRIS BERMAN, SHUT UP!” So there’s that as a detraction from the fun.)

And yet it’s telling that the most exciting sports sequence in this football movie comes from… a basketball scene. That’s how off track this new “Yard” is. It stumbles in its weak attempts to insert inoffensive Sandler jokes into a story that cries out for offensiveness. This is a Beatles song as done by a third-rate college cover band; they hit all the same notes, but they don’t realize that simply hitting them is not nearly enough. Sandler’s update lacks soul, lacks strength, but most of all, it lacks fun.

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