Nelly, Terry Crews and Adam Sandler in Paramount Pictures' The Longest Yard - 2005
I think Adam Sandler is getting progressively less funny with every movie. As is oft pointed out, he really only has one character, the sweet man-child with a barely controlled explosive temper, and each film gives us a variation on the theme. But lately, I think his man child is growing up into someone who's not near as likeable. In The Longest Yard, the senseless remake of the Burt Reynolds hit from 1974, the sweetness is gone, leaving only a sullen schlub with a penchant for violence. Funny!
On paper, at least, this project probably looked fool-proof. Sports comedies are usually well-received, by the fans, and often the critics as well. Take a ready-made story, throw some talented comedians in the mix, maybe some real ex-athletes like Brian Bosworth and Stone Cold Steve Austin, and you've got hit city. You could even get Burt Reynolds to make an appearance. Unfortunately, the screenplay must have been last on the list, because nearly every line rings hollow, every joke falls flat, and even talented character actors like James Cromwell are left high and dry. Sandler plays Paul Crewe, a disgraced former football star who, after a hilarious (note the irony) drunken driving adventure, winds up in a West Texas Penitentiary, serving a three-year sentence. The warden tells him proudly that "we care about two things in Texas: prison and football." I'm so proud that my state is so well known by Hollywood screenwriters. Initially disliked by the entire population because he's either a.) a rich celebrity, or b.) been accused of throwing a football game, Paul works his way into their hearts by showing a willingness to start fights with other inmates or the guards. Not because he's volatile in a Jack Nicholson Cukoo's Nest kind of way, or proud in a Tim Robbins Shawshank kind of way, but simply as a matter of course. He meets a curiously bland Chris Rock, the requisite "I can get it for you" guy, and a whole host of other misfits. Together, they form a Bad News Bears meets Con Air football team and have to play the sadistic guards in a nationally televised game. Don't expect much in the way of sensibility in these course of events. Much of the motivation in the film is offered the barest explanation or justification. We are supposed to root for the prisoners in the big game against the guards not because we really know or like any of them, (they are, in fact, portrayed as violent sociopaths who rightly deserve to be in jail) but simply because they are the underdogs, and that's what the playbook says. It's lazy and insulting, and it's getting worse.
With one cursory remake after another, some coming almost immediately after the original (think, The Grudge) it's no wonder that people are going to the theater less and less often. People say it's the cost of a movie ticket that's driving people away, but that's only a small part of it. Too many movies today are on par with this lame piece of junk. People figure that if a film has a better-than-average chance of sucking, they might as well watch it at home where they can turn it off and not feel like they've wasted a whole evening going out, going to dinner, and paying the high-priced movie ticket. High profile bad movies only serve to cheapen the experience and make it less likely that the big screen is going to survive the home video revolution. Imagine a couple in their fifties. Someone who has maybe quit going out to the movies near as often for one reason or another. But, they remember when The Longest Yard came out the first time, thirty years ago; remembered that it was fun, and, hey, this new one's even got Burt Reynolds coming back. That should be a good time, so they go. And they're shocked. Unfunny dialogue, unlikeable characters, cruelty and violence - poor quality filmmaking across the board. Are they coming back to the theater any time soon? Unlikely, and they're going to tell their friends too. Good luck getting them to the remake of Bewitched.
It's a bit of an understatement to say that I was disappointed in this latest telling of The Longest Yard. Granted, I've not seen the old one, or if I did, it was so long ago that I can't remember it, but I hear that it's good. Not great, but solid entertainment. Even that mark was too high for Sandler and crew to reach for. What they achieve instead is tedious and embarrassing for all involved, especially Chris Rock, who tries gamely, but what can you do with a script like that? Also embarrassing is Courtney Cox in a cameo role as Sandler's girlfriend, whose flat delivery is completely masked by her way-too-revealing evening gown. Whoa. Not a good look for her. In the end, The Longest Yard is not so offensive for its content (or lack thereof) but because of the depressing ease with which the industry is slipping into absolute creative bankruptcy. Grade: D-
The Longest Yard is rated PG-13 despite its language, violence, crude humor, sexual references and drug use, because if your kids don't go see this trash, no one will. Isn't it nice that the MPAA is protecting us all with their moral judgement.
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