Movie review: 'The Longest Yard'

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1 star (out of 4)

How many things are better the second time around, really? Candy bars? Vacations? All too often, "So nice it's worth doing twice" becomes "Man, whose idea was that?" Anyone subjected to this remake of "The Longest Yard" will be asking themselves the same thing.

The yahoos behind this Adam Sandlerized "updating" take the 1974 Burt Reynolds original about an imprisoned, point-shaving ex-quarterback and burn it in a sacrifice to the gods of high-volume ineptitude. The Albert Ruddy/Tracy Keenan Wynn story, in its first iteration, was elevated by fine performances, compelling action and a group of convicts you gradually came to like and root for.

Take two pulsates with avarice, stupidity and cynicism. Everyone and everything except Sandler and an annoying Chris Rock become the butt of mean-spirited jokes. Prison sex, sexual older women, transvestites, gays, blacks, rednecks—the sights of this loud, loutish shell of a star vehicle are all encompassing. Mind you, this applies even if you aren't a fan of the original.

Even the point of this film, the climactic football game pitting the semi-professional guards team (all-white, steroid-chugging fiends whose dress uniforms resemble those of Nazis) against the amateur convicts, leaves you with no rooting interest. You don't like anyone in this movie, so who cares? Besides, the cons have an NFL-quality wide receiver (Michael Irvin), a lightning-fast running back (rapper Nelly) and a quarterback who never misses his target. So where's the suspense?

In the original film the game was a subtle, sanctioned revolt; here, it's little more than a schoolyard prank. The cons don't even steal the guards' uniforms as in the original, opting instead for custom-fitted Reebok livery.

Adapted for the remake by Sheldon Turner, "The Longest Yard" is a basic story, featuring an ex-NFL quarterback, Paul Crewe, who, fed up with his rich mistress and his life, destroys her car and winds up in prison. There, a football-crazed warden forces him to set up a game between the guards' team and a team of convicts.

The first "Yard"—sort of a gridiron "Cool Hand Luke"—was a fine film about triumph of the underdog, a statement on the necessity of prison reform and a killer football movie. The remake removes all subtlety and nuance, replacing them with rock video excess and incessant wisecracks from Sandler, who phones it in, and a by-the-numbers Rock, rictus grin on his face.

In the original, Crewe was Burt Reynolds, an ex-Florida State halfback who had the moves and the look. Pasty, pudgy Sandler looks like some rich guy at an NFL fantasy camp.

The old and new catalysts for Crewe's chafing under the patronage of a rich mistress are symbolic. Reynolds gets fed up after one argument too many, gives his girlfriend a clout and leaves, taking her car, leading police on a chase and dumping the car in the lake.

Sandler rebels because his mistress wants him to don a silly outfit for a party, locks her in a closet (nyah, nyah) and takes her Bentley. Forget the original's psychodrama, where Reynolds makes his girlfriend a symbol of his fatigue with the state of his own life. No time for that. It's Sandler time!

James Cromwell revives Eddie Albert's Warden Hazen as a supplicant goof rather than the sinister, power-crazed demon that Albert created. Rock's Caretaker never bonds with Crewe, robbing the film of a critical relationship and dramatic linchpin.

And strapping on the crampons to ascend the pinnacle of detestability, this "Yard" features Bob Sapp as Switowski (a black man with a Polish surname is funny, right?), the softhearted giant (and parallel to the original's Richard Kiel). Fine, but Switowski is a moronic, baby-talking Stepin Fetchit ("You brokeded mah dose," he whines) whose dangerous strength is offset by the fact that he's a good-natured hulk, redeemed by the oh, so smart white man. Whoever created this role should be ashamed.

There are cameos, including Reynolds, who corrupts the ghost of Michael Conrad's Nate Scarborough; Ed Lauter, the original Knauer; Courteney Cox Arquette; and ex-ballers including Irvin, Brian Bosworth and Bill Romanowski. Even Rob Schneider visits, calling for a victory group hug in the shower. Prison sex. Ha, ha!

Yet the biggest mistake of "Yard" is that it all hangs on Sandler, whose acting is as inept as the rest of this movie, serious dialogue issuing from his dead face like Clutch Cargo doing "Hamlet."

Where the original was a serious film with funny moments, this movie isn't sure if it's a drama or comedy, too incompetently rendered to be both. What it accomplishes instead is to be nothing at all. An excessive, stupid, empty-headed nothing.

kmwilliams@tribune.com

"The Longest Yard"

Directed by Peter Segal; written by Albert Ruddy; screenplay by Sheldon Turner; photographed by Dean Semler; edited by Jeff Gourson; production designed by Perry Andelin Blake; produced by Jack Giarraputo. A Paramount Pictures/Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:54. MPAA rating: PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, violence, language and drug references).

Paul Crewe - Adam Sandler

Caretaker - Chris Rock

Nate Scarborough - Burt Reynolds

Warden Hazen - James Cromwell

Captain Knauer - William Fichtner

Megget - Nelly

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