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The Longest Yard

Football and violence go hand in hand. Violence and Adam Sandler also mix well, if slapstick is to your taste. So using some mathematical theory the name of which has been lost to my sophomore year of high school, The Longest Yard should add up to a great movie. Yet something seems missing from the formula.

A remake of a classic Burt Reynolds movie, Yard follows the beats of the original (even to some surprising directions) while trying to keep Sandler fans happy with what they know. The randomly strange Sandler persona would be too at odds with the gritty non-realism of the rest of the film, so the comedian uses his normal guy façade. That would be fine, except we usually see that normal guy as a romantic lead.

Since it's a prison movie, however, we don't see much romance. To be fair, SNL alumnus Tracy Morgan pulls off at least as convincing a drag act as Bugs Bunny. But though that character finds Sandler's Paul "Wrecking" Crewe sexy, that's far from what the movie should be about.

Maybe it's about redemption, which has sort of been a sub-theme to Sandler's work. Former NFL quarterback Carew got drummed out of the league for allegedly shaving points in a game. His prison sentence comes from a drunken driving spree triggered by a Courtney Cox cameo - completely understandable. When he gets beaten (brow and otherwise) into coaching a prison football team, Crewe has to find who he really is and ...yeah, yeah, yeah.

While the plot remains, director Peter Segal succumbs to the urge to throw in bits of comedy that take us out of reality. Not that buying Sandler as an athletic sex symbol smacks of the real world, but throwing in Cloris Leachman as the cartoonish horny warden's secretary (after she played Sandler's mother-in-law in Spanglish) plays as buffoonery.

Though many former pro football players take small roles, most of the prison guards and inmates are played by wrestlers, tweaking images that already wink at us. Worse, Segal doesn't give us a Steve Austin/Goldberg face-off - if you're going to push reality this far and bother putting them on opposing teams, pay up! The nods to earlier films, such as with Rob Schneider popping up once again with his trademark Cajun line, also breaks whatever spell there may be.

However, you might buy Reynolds appearing as an older inmate that still suits up for the game. If anything, that seems a knowing and respectful nod to the past.

In general, when Segal relaxes enough to just tell the story, The Longest Yard lopes along and entertains. Sandler does have a surprising quiet nobility, which he explored to soppier effect in Spanglish, though this movie never makes full use of it.

For the first time in a long while, somebody has used Chris Rock right, too, giving him a role that keeps him being a smart aleck without burdening him with too much exposition. What little storytelling he actually has comes late enough that we already fully accept him.

And then there's the action. Segal directs it competently, but gets too bogged down with what modern technology will let him do, rather than just what he needs to do. The split screen effect is distracting but a minor annoyance at worst. When the camera zooms through pipes and electronics in order to reach a simple establishing shot, it's just plain showing off for its own sake. Since nowhere else in the film does Segal use such an effect, it's out of place.

Sandler needs to keep his worlds separate. He has a burgeoning serious actor side, and a wacky lunatic side. Both versions can be entertaining. Turning him into some sort of rebellious action star, however, doesn't quite work. He might be smart enough and cocky enough, just like Reynolds once was, but like the pipes shot, Sandler just doesn't quite belong here.


The Longest Yard (Lockdown Edition)

Derek McCaw

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