Dir: Peter Segal. USA.2005. 113mins.
Underdog sports tales areoverly common, but Adam Sandler's new film The Longest Yard - asurprisingly faithful and raucous remake of Burt Reynolds beloved movie of thesame name - spikes that familiar punch with the motivation of revenge,resulting in an estimable and surprisingly entertaining kick-off to the summercomedy season.
The film, PG-13 in theUnited States, flirted with a more restrictive classification (the 1974original was rated R), and the setting is considerably darker and grittier thanmost of Sandler's frothy comedies. Still, given that his audience has aged withhim and shown considerable loyalty, this seems more of an additional merit thandrawback. Robust, pan-ethnic appeal and hearty American box office returns seema lock.
International opinion may besomewhat comparatively tepid, given the trouble in translation that sportsmovies often suffer (it's all about American football, it must be stressed).But the universality of its prison backdrop and gruff "guys' code" storylineshould help counter against this.
Sandler stars as Paul Crewe,a former star quarterback for the National Football League's PittsburghSteelers indicted and publicly shamed on (unproven) point shaving allegations.When we first meet him, he's bickering with his harridan wife (Courtney CoxArquette) and leading police on a wild, drunken car chase. This lands him in aTexas prison, where Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) makes it clear that ifthere's one thing take Texans more seriously than penal code violations, it'sfootball.
Hazen sponsors a semi-proteam comprised of his guards; Captain Knauer (William Fichtner) is itsquarterback and leader, and his crew includes wrestler Steve Austin andreal-life ex-American footballers Brian Bosworth and Bill Romanowski.
Sensing some sort ofpolitical opportunism, Hazen decides he can increase his public profile bystaging a televised exhibition game between his boys and the convicts. Pauljust wants to do his time quietly, but Knauer makes it clear that if he doesn'tparticipate in the sham, there will be quite a price to pay.
Caught between a rock and ahard place, Paul befriends the wisecracking Caretaker (Chris Rock), whoconvinces him to give it a whirl. The two draft a rag-tag bunch of out-of-shapelosers, and get ready to accept their beating.
Finally, an old coot andfellow washed-up football star, Nate Scarborough (none other than Reynoldshimself), offers to step in and coach the squad, and Caretaker facilitates theparticipation of a few skill players, including Megget (Nelly) and Deacon Moss(Michael Irvin).
A broadcast showdown ensues,with all the bone-rattling hits and dirty play you'd expect from a group ofhell-raising inmates given 60 minutes to take out their aggression on theirvery tormentors.
Directed by Tommy Boy'sPeter Segal, The Longest Yard doesn't reinvent the wheel of comedy, andsome its broader strokes - including Tracy Morgan as the leader of a group of,ahem, effeminate inmates - fall distressingly flat.
The film is littered with afew implausible scenes, plus anachronistic and/or otherwise dubious touches,from Shrek jokes by Caretaker to a secret, computerised star-ratingsystem the warden uses to categorise the violent impulses of his convicts.
That said, for the most partThe Longest Yard works, in no part because the film has enough socialcommentary to appeal to viewers outside of the traditional sports demographic.The football action is also solidly choreographed, and lends considerableballast to the proceedings.
Sandler received a lot ofattention for his turn in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, butwork in both Spanglish and The Longest Yard augur moreconvincingly as a potential parallel career in drama. Regardless of their otherrelative narrative merits, each of these films offers a more rounded,realistically three-dimensional character than the stunted man-child ofPunch-Drunk Love, and Sandler's world-weary Crewes is a sinner who finds(admittedly lighthearted) salvation in his unlikely confines.
Though not the type of thingthat would normally be singled out in a summer comedy like this,cinematographer Dean Semler (an Academy Award winner for Dances With Wolves)also deserves special mention for nicely capturing the spatial nature andaction of the movie's football sequences. If you've seen sports done wrong(Tony Scott versus baseball in The Fan), you now how excruciating it canbe. It's a pleasure that The Longest Yard gets it right.
Sony Pictures Releasing International
Albert S Ruddy
Sheldon Turner, based on the screenplay Tracy Keenan Wynn, from a story byAlbert S Ruddy)
Perry Andelin Blake
Courtney Cox Arquette