Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.
The Longest Yard feels different from any other film in this project to this point and yet, in many aspects, it feels all too familiar. We’ve seen the production company’s take on the sports film in The Benchwarmers and its man-against-the-world stories in Little Nicky and Joe Dirt; we’ve even seen Sandler play Remake Master with Mr. Deeds. So what is it about The Longest Yard that feels unique?
I recently read this article, ranking each Adam Sandler movie, and one aspect that the author points out repeatedly is Sandler’s ability to step back and let his friends and castmates do the comedic heavy lifting (sometimes literally, in the case of this film). Given that most of his films so far have been fairly light on ensembles, The Longest Yard feels like the first entry where Sandler isn’t the singular selling point. Among his co-stars are Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan, both well-known and well-regarded entities. Many of the jokes and comedic bits go to then-unproven actors (Terry Crews) or non-actors like rapper Nelly, retired football star Michael Irvin and wrestlers Bill Goldberg and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Toss in a winking appearance by Burt Reynolds, whose presence feels almost entirely superfluous save the tether to the original film, and you understand why Sandler suddenly didn’t feel the need to carry a film by himself. Yes, I’m fully aware of the irony in Sandler playing the quarterback of a football team. The sports clichés basically write themselves, folks.
Plus, The Longest Yard looks fantastic. Digital cinema had already been around and fairly widespread by 2005, but it’s clear that the reduced cost of cameras and editing software could create the opportunity to hire a talented and experienced cinematographer in Academy Award winner Dean Semler, who served as the director of photography for The Road Warrior and Dances With Wolves, among other titles. Semler’s inventive camerawork and lighting choices go a long way to help the film feel dynamic even when the script doesn’t. The football scenes, which dominate the last act, are filmed energetically and fluently; it’s all too easy to shoot a sporting event that lacks any sense of urgency, and The Longest Yard succeeds in avoiding that aspect.
Watching The Longest Yard, I began to wonder why Sandler & Co. felt the need to remake this film in particular. With Mr. Deeds, it makes some sense: Society’s view of the ultra-rich had dramatically changed in the 66 years since Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Sandler’s updates, while not entirely for the better, at least lent some credence to his argument to remake the classic film. While I haven’t seen the original 1974 version of The Longest Yard, it’s hard to imagine what value Happy Madison could have added aside from a blatant ESPN partnership and some lazy pop-culture references. And yet the idea of authority and punishment inherent to the prison-yard pigskin of The Longest Yard makes it a framework that’s sociologically ripe for the picking; surprisingly, the Brits did just that with Barry Skolnick’s Mean Machine, only three years before this iteration. But Sandler’s sports fandom is well-documented; perhaps all he wanted to do was make a sports movie without having to do the legwork of coming up with an original script.
Part of the fun — for lack of a better word — of this project has been seeing which projects Sandler picked after forming his own production company and essentially writing his own paychecks. I began this endeavor hoping I wouldn’t give in to cynicism, hoping I could find a silver lining to a widely maligned chunk of film history. Roger Ebert wrote, in his fairly infamous review of The Longest Yard, that being angry at a film like this is like being angry at a dog for failing to do calculus. Indeed, The Longest Yard, against all logical sense, still manages to thread the needle between disappointment and over-delivery. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Cloris Leachman nearly steals the show as the horny secretary. Even though Happy Madison has largely relegated the few elderly roles in their films to either being horny or delusional people, Leachman is a scream here.
- Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. The incorporation of ESPN here just reeks of Sandler’s input. As someone who has almost entirely turned from ever watching ESPN again, every cameo from one of their bit players felt like a PTSD flashback.
- Fart Joke Counter: None, but the bit during the football game with the misbegotten referee brought to mind one of my favorite Simpsons clips.
- The Walkout Test: Fail. Too much rap music!
- NEXT TIME: We bid a teary adieu to the Rob Schneider vehicles with Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.