The Longest Yard Review

Allenville Federal Penitentiary is the toughest prison in Texas. It's home to murderers, rapists, armed robbers... and former American football star Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler). Paul was convicted of point-shaving - influencing the score of an NFL match for the benefit of gamblers - and he was given a suspended sentence, the terms of which he violated when he stole his rich bitch girlfriend's Bentley and led the cops on a destructive car chase. Now he's doing hard time with hundreds of hardened cons who regard football cheats as highly as they do child molesters.

Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) might be able to make Paul's time easier in return for a favour. He wants him to help train his guards' amateur football squad. This is Texas after all, the football state, and a successful Allenville side will give Hazen status. However, Captain Knauer (William Fichtner), Hazen's vicious head guard doesn't want the convicted cheat anywhere near his team. He makes it violently clear to Paul that he is not to accept the warden's offer. Under pressure from both men, Crewe comes up with a compromise. He'll put together his own team of prisoners to play the guards in a pre-season practice game. Now all Paul needs to do is find some inmates willing to play for him.

The Longest Yard represents a collision between two very different movies that someone wrongly thought might be compatible. One is the original 1974 Longest Yard, a brutal, knockabout action movie directed by Robert Aldrich. The other is a contemporary Adam Sandler comedy. Combining the two was a purely commercial decision and it's proved to be a canny one judging by the American box office figures. That's good marketing.

How many viewers will find the film satisfying is another matter. I think it'll disappoint you whether you're coming to it as an admirer of the Reynolds movie or as a Sandler fan. The comedian's brand of crude but light humour isn't suited to the grim location, while the harsher elements of the story, which include beatings and murder, look out of place amidst the gay cheerleader jokes.

This is of course the second remake of The Longest Yard, the first being the 2001 British film Mean Machine, which substituted our own football for the American sport and cast Vinnie Jones in the Burt Reynolds role. That was more or less a straight, scene-by-scene remake, even lifting the original dialogue in places. It was well cast, with Jones proving he could carry a film and the story remained a strong one but if you'd seen the earlier movie, there was no reason to watch it. As remakes go, it was nearly as pointless as Gus Van Sant's Psycho.

The Sandler version is better. It's less slavish for a start. It does have its own take on the material, however misguided it might be, and it's less afraid of making changes and embellishments. There's a strong supporting cast headed by Chris Rock, doing his funniest big screen work since Dogma in 1999 and including Burt Reynolds himself as an old coach. The dumb comedy occasionally scores a big laugh. This isn't an unwatchable film but it's still a hopelessly misconceived one. The good elements don't add up to a good movie.

Adam Sandler's performance is a major problem. He isn't remotely convincing as the character he's playing, an embittered ex-quarterback. You don't have to be an expert on American football to know how little Sandler resembles an NFL quarterback. Burt Reynolds was a real football pro before he turned to acting and the role suited him like a glove. Playing the macho - but charming - anti-establishment hero was what Reynolds did best. That's a long way from what Sandler does best. He specialises in nerds, freaks and slackers.

Still, Sandler has played angry rebels before in films like Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy and that approach might have worked to a degree. Instead, bizarrely, he's opted to make Paul one of his lovable goofballs, the kind of guy who would be more at home romancing Drew Barrymore than training hardened convicts. That's a terrible decision and it undermines the film, robbing it of the little credibility it has. You may be thinking this is an Adam Sandler comedy, who cares if it's credible, but there's a serious side to this story and its outcome is supposed to matter. How can it when the Paul Crewe presented here clearly wouldn't last five minutes in a maximum security prison or on an American football field for that matter?

The Longest Yard is a rare mis-step for Sandler who, till now, has consistently made films that showcased his talents to maximum effect. You might love him or hate him but you had to acknowledge that he knew his limitations and he knew his audience. It's surprising to see him get it so wrong.



out of 10
Category Film Review

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