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The Longest Yard (2005)

Okay, so let's get the tedious "but the original was so much better!" whinging out of the way right up front: If you haven't seen the original 1974 The Longest Yard, you should. It's one of the great Sunday-afternoon-with-Dad matinees, and it's tied with Breaking Away as perhaps the greatest sports movie ever. And, like most great sports movies, it's about a guy who loses as much as he wins. Burt Reynolds, never funnier or tougher, plays Paul "Wrecking" Crewe — a disgraced former quarterback who ends up in a Florida prison after he drunkenly shoves his girlfriend, destroys her Maserati and punches a couple of police officers. Once Crewe's in the clink, the nasty warden (Eddie Albert) forces him to assemble and lead an all-inmate team in a football game against the prison guards. The original's director, Robert Aldrich, revisits many of the same ideas he explored in 1967's The Dirty Dozen. Like Dozen, The Longest Yard is about horrible men finding a little redemption as they bond on a hopeless mission — with Reynolds in the Lee Marvin role as the cynical, mordantly funny leader who thinks rules are for sissies. It's a particular kind of nasty, funny and deeply humane tough-guy movie that mainstream Hollywood doesn't really try and make anymore (though you see flashes of it pop up in Quentin Tarantino's better moments). (BTW, if you're interested in further reading, Sunset Gun makes a stirring case for the '74 Yard right here.)

Now, with that out of the way: The brand-new remake of "The Longest Yard" is no "Longest Yard," if that makes any sense, but it's a definite crowd-pleaser and a perfectly fun night at the movies. Putting an amiable but sort-of-toothless Adam Sandler in the Reynolds role (and a frail-looking Reynolds in the role of veteran prisoner Nate Scarborough), the remake shaves most of the raw edges off the original to create an almost family-friendly PG-13 entertainment. For fans of the original, here are the sort of changes we're talking about:

  1. There are fewer curse words and racial slurs.
  2. Sandler's Paul Crewe isn't nearly as nasty in the opening scenes.
  3. The prisoners no longer kill or paralyze guards during the climactic match.
  4. Reynolds' sexual tryst with the prison secretary (Bernadette Peters) has been "re-imagined" as Sandler's erotic photo shoot with an elderly horndog (Cloris Leachman).
  5. The racist edge found in '74's segregated prison population has been reduced to relatively tame posturing, backed by a corporate-friendly rap soundtrack.

  6. Where the original was full of lumpy, interesting-looking meat-eaters, nearly everyone in the remake is as gym-cut as an MTV dancer.
  7. And where the original was more or less grounded in a gritty reality, with a game that felt like real football, the remake features plenty of the wacky, over-the-top Adam Sandler antics you'd expect — up to and including hijinks with a player whose steroid pills are secretly replaced with estrogen.

All that said, the remake is remarkably faithful to the original in the broad strokes. There are long passages of dialogue that are nearly word-for-word. And if you're going to put new actors in these classic roles, you could do a lot worse than casting Chris Rock as Caretaker, James Cromwell as the warden, David Patrick Kelly as the nutty pyromaniac, and William Fichtner as Captain Knauer — not to mention casting a host of NFL and pro-wrestling personalities as guards and linebackers. Anyone who thinks Sandler's an underrated talent who's made two minor absurdist masterpieces (Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore) and done some wonderful work as an actor (Punch Drunk Love) will be pleased to hear that this film falls solidly into the "mainstream-good" section of his film catalog, somewhere near The Wedding Singer. If you haven't watched the original recently — thus condemning yourself to create a mental play-by-play comparison chart — you'll probably enjoy yourself. Paramount's DVD release of The Longest Yard offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio options. Supplements include the featurettes "First Down and Twenty-Five to Life" (21 min.), "The Care and Feeding of Pro Athletes" (5 min.), and "Lights, Camera, Touchdown" (5 min.), "Extra Points" with a look at five special-effects sequences, nine deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Peter Segal, a music video by Nelly, the music montage "Here Comes the Boom," and outtakes filed under "Fumbles and Stumbles" (4 min.) Keep-case.
M.E. Russell

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