The Longest Yard

on May 27, 2005 by Wade Major
What was an utterly original blending of popular genres in 1974 has been refashioned as an utterly unoriginal retread of genre clich├ęs in 2005, proving yet again that Hollywood is fast losing touch with its own best storytelling traditions. By now, everyone this side of the Danube should know the drill -- a once-great but now-disgraced quarterback lands himself in prison where he's pressured by an egotistical warden into assembling a ragtag team of prisoners to act as a kind of sparring partner for the more seasoned and organized team of prison guards.

As initially directed by Robert Aldrich and scripted by Tracy Keenan Wynn -- son of Keenan Wynn and grandson of famed funnyman Ed Wynn -- "The Longest Yard" was a kind of "Cool Hand Luke" crossed with "Hoosiers," a witty and cathartic crowd-pleaser featuring former college football player Burt Reynolds in one of his most memorable turns. The surprisingly good 2001 British remake "Mean Machine," which adapted the story to the soccer pitch, was similarly effective for many of the same reasons. Unfortunately, this MTV-produced remake, directed by Peter Segal in his third consecutive collaboration with star/producer Adam Sandler, preserves only the most superficial shell of the premise, replacing anything vaguely humanistic with a steroidal dose of lowest-common-denominator humor and video game-inspired action. The only real accomplishment here is that Sandler isn't unconvincing as an athlete -- but he's clearly no substitute for Reynolds, whose magnetic presence in a supporting role serves as a constant reminder of how much better the previous film still is.

The cast is a pop-culture smorgasbord consisting of Sandler's "Saturday Night Live" pals (Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan), former NFL players (Brian Bosworth, Bill Romanowski, Michael Irvin, Terry Crews) and pro wrestlers (Bill Goldberg, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Dalip Singh), as well as rapper Nelly and K-1 kickboxing champion Bob Sapp, all of whom get their obligatory share of one-liners and scene-stealing moments, yet few real opportunities at anything meaningful.

However shallow and callow the effort, the commercial calculation is probably right -- today's short-attention-span teenagers, more enamored of WWF theatrics and video game football than the real thing, aren't looking for much more than outlandish action, bone-crushing hits and a few good laughs. Ironically, catering to such a lot does little but undermine the film's underlying theme regarding the importance of overcoming low expectations. In this case, low expectations aren't just accepted, they're rewarded. Starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Burt Reynolds. Directed by Peter Segal. Written by Sheldon Turner. Produced by Jack Giarraputo. A Paramount release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, violence, language and drug references. Running time: 113 min

Tags: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds, Peter Segal, Sheldon Turner, Jack Giarraputo, Paramount, Comedy/Drama, NFL, wrestling, teenage, prison, guards

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