The Longest Yard, a remake of the 1974 film, might be the most shot-for-shot remake since Gus van Sant’s Psycho, and also perhaps the most unnecessary.
Of course, the plot is familiar — a football game between brutal prison guards and maximum-security hard cases who are led by a disgraced NFL quarterback. And there’s the presence in both of Burt Reynolds, here playing an old-school football hero who becomes the team’s de facto coach. (Adam Sandler steps into his role from the original.)
But even the dialogue, scene structure, sight gags, casting M.O. (actual former football players in some roles), even its leading man’s skullcap and preference for Skynyrd also are the same.
Sandler stars as Paul Crewe, a disgraced NFL quarterback and former MVP who takes a drunken joyride in a Bentley that belongs to his nagging girlfriend (Courtney Cox).
In one of the rare sensible script updates, Crewe is sent away to maximum-security prison because he has violated the probation he’s already on for shaving points.
Once there, he’s recruited by Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) to tune up his team of guards to take the prison-league championship. Crewe suggests a scrimmage against the inmate team, a bumbling squad of ne’er-do-wells dubbed the Mean Machine. Crewe proposes the contest as a throwaway, but it’s bumped up to epic revenge proportions after murder and blackmail.
This Yard doesn’t totally shy away from the original’s racial tension and grimmer aspects; this may be the first Sandler movie ever where his character’s beatings aren’t fully intended for laughs. But it doesn’t exactly stick all the way to them, either, most notably in the film’s epilogue, which adds a just sprinkle of summer blockbuster sugar.
Sheldon Turner seems more like an efficiency expert at movie quotas than a screenwriter. The not-much role for a recognizable rap star goes to Nelly, who’s not convincing as a running back. And the ESPN tie-ins run wild, tossing in practically everyone from Jim Rome to Chris Berman, permanently elevating himself to a Dick Vitale-esque level of annoyance with this appearance.
Plus, the shoehorning of Sandler’s oddball humor has never been poorly done; that is, of course, notwithstanding Rob Schneider’s spoiled appearance as the “You can do it!” guy. But the cons’ replacement of one guard’s steroids with estrogen supplements to make him weepy and sensitive and Cloris Leachman running around in her bloomers while seducing Sandler fall flat.
Nothing clunks harder, though, than Chris Rock’s rank reference jokes. If they were in Turner’s script, he should have ad-libbed. But if these are his ad-libs, Rock has more to worry about than being roundly slammed as an Oscar host. As always, Rock’s riotous stand-up routine dies in translation.
He stars as Caretaker, the contraband king of the prison whose shtick includes tired jabs at O.J. Simpson and Rodney King. Uttering “Can’t we all just get along?” for comic effect sets Rock’s career back at least a decade, also known as that joke’s expiration date. Does Rock even know what year this is?
A quick fix to the problem would be that the guy’s been in prison so long, he doesn’t know his references are bad. But as it plays, those who know Caretaker’s role in the story will be begging for it to just happen already.
Director Peter Segal (Anger Management) makes just two improvements on the original, and only one — a greater focus on the team’s camaraderie — has anything to do with his storytelling sense.
The other is the quick-cut editing, flashy camerawork and 100-song soundtrack of jock jams that jazzes up the climactic game, and the movie, to at least rental-worthy status. But this score comes after a series of disappointing punts in a movie that would otherwise be unwatchable.