Sunday, June 5, 2005

Reel To Reel:
The Longest Yard

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds
Rated: R
Red Flags: Football Violence, Sexual Humor, Some Language

Preconceived Notions: Adam Sandler updates a football classic.
The Bottom Line: It's fast, it's funny, it's worth your while. Touchdown!

The original Longest Yard was played for drama. Adam Sandlers re-make is played for laughs, but this is no stupid Dumb And Dumber arrangement.

Sandler is Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a pro banished from the NFL after a conviction for point shaving. A drunken spin in a Bentley violates his probation, and he ends up in a good-ol'-boy Texas lockup with a football-crazy warden (James Cromwell) and a set of torture-loving guards which could draw comparisons to Abu Gharib.

Warden Hazen wants some advice on getting his team of guards ready for the season. Crewe says you need a throwaway game, something the guards would win in a blowout to boost their morale. Hazen says fine, why not have the guards play a team of cons? It becomes Crewe's job to build that team.

He immediately befriends Caretaker (Rock), the prison procurement expert who can get anything from anywhere. It's not long before ex-footballer Nate Scarborough (Reynolds, who was in the original) signs on as coach. About half the film is devoted to Crewe putting his crew together, recruiting from the misfits who want to take a poke at the guards as well as the mean suckas who could do some serious bone breaking. Crewe figures his team needs some speed, too, leading to a brutal basketball challenge with Cheeseburger Eddy. The guards are getting wind of what Crewe's up to and want to stop him. The game is getting bigger. This throwaway game is suddenly an ESPN2 game of the week.

Yard is tightly paced and funny without being silly, which is saying something for director Peter Segal, who did the final Naked Gun picture along with other Sandler pictures like Anger Management and 50 First Dates. And for all its comedy, an edge of drama seems to help. But not too much drama. Football action? You've got it -- smash-mouth brutal stuff. It helps that former pros Michael Irvin and Bill Goldberg give the film some extra football chops. What? Goldberg's a wrestler? Oh yeah, we got those too: Steve Austin and Kevin Nash both play guards.

Having not seen the original, I can't make an honest comparison. But comparison is pointless seeing how many films get remade. The new Longest Yard is a good sports film, and if people think it's blasphemy what Segal has done to it, don't see it. Rent Friday Night Lights instead.

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