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Film review

Fumbles mar 'The Longest Yard'

To start with, Adam Sandler is no Burt Reynolds, and that's just one update that makes this film less gritty and spirited than its predecessor.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
Published May 26, 2005

photo
[Paramount Pictures]
Star wide receiver Deacon Moss (former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin, left) teams up with Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) during the inmates’ match against the prison guards in The Longest Yard.

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Watching the new, unimproved version of The Longest Yard is like watching arena football when you're really aching for some NFL action. It's a novel way to pass the time, but it isn't the real thing.

Back in 1974, when the movie game was different, a comedy such as Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard was a breath of fresh, whiskey-scented air. Real men wanted to be Burt Reynolds. I don't want to imagine a world in which all men want to be Adam Sandler, who subs for Reynolds in the role of a disgraced former NFL star, in a movie that reeks of Red Bull, not bourbon.

Sandler's lack of athleticism, compared to Reynolds in his prime, is covered up by director Peter Segal, who makes the comedian look like Trent Dilfer. Sandler's here for his attitude, but even that's oddly muted by Sheldon Turner's adapted screenplay. Maybe Sandler's being a team player, but the team needs a lift. The Longest Yard mostly coasts on retired-jock casting - "Look, honey, there's Brian Bosworth!" - and people hired for their girth or, in the case of Dalip Singh, who steps into Richard Kiel's size-22 shoes, their genetics.

Sandler plays Paul Crewe, busted for DUI after a car chase that would have been exciting in 1974. The politically ambitious warden Hazen (James Cromwell, no Eddie Albert when it comes to slick villainy) arranges Crewe's incarceration at his prison so that he can offer tips to Hazen's prized semipro team of guards. The quarterback, Capt. Knauer (William Fichtner), doesn't appreciate the help.

Crewe's suggestion that the guards play a warmup game against the prisoners is a reason for the projector to keep running. That's the only part of the original movie that Segal seems to understand, although he remembers the source a few times by reprising favorite jokes or using split-screen visuals. Football jokes are practically foolproof, and the gridiron collisions are nicely choreographed.

Turner's script wavers between disrespect and too much reverence for the original film. The first movie was a hard R for its day, but the new version is tailored to a PG-13 rating, ensuring better ticket sales. The softening of some scenes - a clothesline tackle injuring a guard's neck, for example - is disappointing. The Longest Yard works better when it imitates its predecessor because few of the new ideas are better.

A few improvements come through. Chris Rock lights up each of his scenes as Caretaker, the con who can score anything. The drag cheerleaders who made a cameo appearance in 1974 are given more screen time, with former Saturday Night Live star Tracy Morgan swishing it up in style. The climactic football game is smartly produced, if glitzier than it should be.

Mostly, Segal erects his movie as a monument to Reynolds, who arrives walking out of the desert dust like a classic Western hero. You can sense his pride in being here, and the godfather influence he must have had on the production. Reynolds is forced into the old pro role that Michael Conrad played in the original, yet ego, or Segal's devotion, brings a much different destiny to the character. Reynolds' face, with obvious surgical enhancements, and Segal's film both come across as desperate and not quite successful grabs at past glories.

THE LONGEST YARD

Grade: C

Director: Peter Segal

Cast: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds, James Cromwell, Nelly, Michael Irvin, Dalip Singh, Bill Romanowski, Brian Bosworth, Cloris Leachman

Screenplay: Sheldon Turner, based on the 1974 screenplay by Tracy Keenan Wynn

Rating: PG-13; profanity, violence, crude and sexual humor, brief drug abuse

Running time: 114 min.

[Last modified May 25, 2005, 09:51:08]


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