Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The Adam Sandler remake of the classic, bone-crunching, Burt Reynolds' football comedy "The Longest Yard" (***1/2 out of ****) captures the rowdy Three Stooges spirit of its 1974 predecessor in virtually every respect, except that director Peter Segal doesn't stage the gridiron exploits with the virtuosity the late Robert Aldrich did, with Reynolds calling plays opposite veteran Green Bay Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke and former Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Henry. Nevertheless, this crowd-pleasing, slam-bang rendition of "The Longest Yard" ranks as the best Adam Sandler farce since "The Waterboy." Freshman scenarist Shelton Turner succeeds where most scribes fail in that his inspired update of writer Tracy Keenan Wynn's original screenplay sticks with the previous game plan, smooths out the rough spots in some instances, but deviates only when necessary to conjure up fresher gags. Long-time Sandler fans will spot some of these alterations, especially when Sandler's comic pal Rob Schneider's shows up to perform his 'you can do it' shtick from the sidelines, and Cloris Leachman's hilarious football prison secretary upstages anything Bernadette Peters did in the first time out. The casting here is bullseye perfect, smack down to the smallest detail, specifically perennial villain David Patrick Kelly as the jealous pyromanical inmate who torches one of the team players. Quiet, unassuming "Babe" star James Cromwell turns in a top-notch performance as the sleazy warden that the late great Eddie Albert (he stole the show as the warden in the original) would stand up and cheer from the grave. Although the new "Longest Yard" doesn't surpass the first "Longest Yard," you'd need a chain marker and a committee of officials to tell the difference.

Like the original "Longest Yard," the Sandler version opens in the bedroom with a drunken Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler of "50 First Dates") appropriating his girlfriend's sports car for a joy ride and winds up receiving a three year sentence in the can at Allenville Federal Penitentiary in Texas. Warden Hazen (James Cromwell of " ") pulls strings to get Crewe into his correctional facility, because Hazen dreams of running for governor and believes his prison guard football team will put him into the political end zone. Hazen approaches Crewe and asks him for his help in straightening up his team that hasn't clinched a championship in several years. Initially, Crewe refuses to give Hazen the benefit of his experience because prison guard Captain Knauer (William Fichtner of "Armageddon") has beaten him repeatedly with his baton and warned him to refuse the warden. After a week in solitary sweating it out in a shack with no amenities, Crewe capitulates and suggests that Hazen schedule a tune-up game between the guards and the convicts. Unlike the original where the guards were just guards, in the remake the prison warden has recruited his guards from college players who missed out. A several familiar faces flesh out these plug-ugly prison guards, notably former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth, two-time, NFL Pro Bowler Bill Romanowski, and wrestling legend Steve 'Cold Stone' Austin. At first, Crewe appears at a complete loss until he meets Caretaker (Chris Rock of "Head of the State") who clues him into who is who behind bars. Initial attempts to recruit team member falter because pro-football banned Crewe from playing because of his alleged point-fixing schemes. Nevertheless, Crewe comes up with players who make the guys in the Burt Reynolds version look like pygmies.

Director Peter Segal, who has helmed two previous Adam Sandler comedies: "Anger Management" and "50 First Dates," never lets the action lag and manages to convey important exposition (story ideas) in a more streamlined fashion. Clearly, he must have seen the first "Yard," because his use of split-screen is patterned after what Aldrich did in the original. Wisely, funnyman Adam Sandler doesn't try to one-up Burt Reynolds whose real-life college football career helped his physical performance enormously in the original. There is no scene where the hero tosses a pass through a tire swinging at the end of a rope. No where near as cool and charismatic as Burt was in 1974, Sandler sticks to the game plan that he knows best: wiseacre humor. Sandler's scenes with the glorious Cloris Leachman will be hard to top for any comedian who takes on this project. The repartee between Sandler and a short, conch-eared San Diego traffic cop is fantastic. Everything up to the big showdown on the gridiron is either perfectly rehashed by director Segal, writer Turner, and a strong cast or taken to the next level. Notably good is the way that Segal introduces each player as they join the team for practice. Particularly funny is the inclusion of a Hispanic Hercules whose accent isn't thick enough to require subtitles but the subtitles add to the hilarity of the moment. The only two things that this "Yard" fumbles are the tension crackling plays, the sports car from the first movie, and the infamous F-word line that surprisingly has been toned-down and rewritten for this PG-13 movie. While PG-13 movies lack the profanity levels of their R-rated counterparts, the Motion Picture Association of America allows on F-word for every PG-13. However, the gag in the original had the cast using the F-Word in the same sentence three times. All quibbles aside, Adam Sandler and company score a touchdown with "The Longest Yard," not only as first-rate entertainment but also as homage to the Robert Aldrich original.

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