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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.