You really do have to understand the underlying cultural events that triggered the success of the first Longest Yard. Its star, Burt Reynolds, was a popular wisecracking icon of television talk shows and the first famous man ever to pose virtually nude in a national magazine (a Cosmopolitan centerfold). He may have been huge at the box office, but his hand carefully covered his genitals in the magazine. Make of that what you will, the guy was a mega-star. Additionally, Reynolds verbal delivery was comprised of a zany, tongue-in-cheek lack of respect for authority, a factor that aided the original films success. Directed by adventure movie master Robert Aldrich, The Longest Yard of 1974 had energy and voice, hilarious dialogue, and even generated some suspense.
Thirty years later, the glib remake falls flat on every count. The production team behind the feature seems to have no clue as to what the first movie was about. It has been turned into a giddy mess, with only a few laughs, and a mess of stereotypes of the racial and homosexual variety. Regarding the gay angle, it really amazes me how much current filmmakers have misinterpreted the success of TVs Will & Grace, especially regarding the antics of the Jack character, who seems to be a kind of iconic effeminate fool, the very notion of what straight people consider gay. What too many people forget (or ignore) is that Jack has heart and emotions (not to mention intelligence, wit, and style). Its a character with huge amounts of depth. Stereotypes, like the drag queens in the new Longest Yard, are all about superficiality. Regarding racial stereotyping, the movie wallows in it. The fact that black actor/comic Chris Rock has sold his soul, and by soul I mean both senses of the word, to the devil by appearing in this thing should give one pause. Rock is a satirical firecracker, a smart as whip chronicler of the very essence of us versus them. Everyone deserves a payday, but I doubt that Rock needed this payday.
The remake generally follows the originals plot thrust, but it hasnt captured the cultural wind. The screenplay is now credited to Sheldon Turner, from a 1970s story by Albert S. Ruddy and a script by Tracy Keenan Wynn. As directed by Peter Segal, the new movie rolls along mechanically, never sure when not to play it safe. The film has no guts; therefore, no glory. Its a pale carbon copy without any of the zip.
This time around Adam Sandler plays the Burt Reynolds role, that of the football star who gets sent to prison. Reynolds is in the picture as an old con who has advice for the newbies and will help coach the inmate squad. The guards in the prison are nasty. The warden (James Cromwell) is nasty. The food is nasty. You want a prison cliché? You got it.
For a moment, let me write about a new trend in Hollywood commercial films. With a few exceptions, Ive noticed that women characters have become shrews, harridans, or just plain monsters. See Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez in Monster-In-Law for definite proof of that. You honestly believe Fonda would know better. Anyway, in keeping with the current trend, the primary female character in The Longest Yard is nothing less than a bitch. She is the catalyst for everything that comes next. I hope Courtney Cox Arquette was well paid for her short stint in the movie. She plays Sandlers girl friend. At the start of the film she acts up vulgarly in public thus sending Sandler into a male chauvinist rage, thus causing him to drive drunk, thus causing a dreary endless car chase and predictable crash, an overdone pile-up that is played for laughs. It worked in The Blues Brothers, but it seems less funny here.
So the football star gets sent to jail and hes surrounded by every cliché in the movies-about-prison handbook. Its decided that the cons will play a football game against the guards and the training proceeds. The evil warden covets some sort of prison football championship trophy. The movie blends the ragtag inmate misfits into a team of sorts. The game is played. And theres an ending. There are two great misfits-in-sports movies. One is the original The Longest Yard and the other is Slap Shot. This new pile of hokum is time wasting at its zenith.
Everyone connected to the new Longest Yard should hang their collective heads in shame. The idea that we can believe for a single second that Adam Sandler even looks like a star NFL quarterback from a physical standpoint is ludicrous. From a directorial point-of-view, the movie looks awkward. Director Segal has trouble knowing where to put the camera. His shots are static; his framing is off. The script has odd holes in it. Sandlers character is arrested in California, but ends up in a Texas prison. Were not talking capital crime here, unless you consider the crime to be against cinematic sensibilities. Additionally, the prison captain (played by the usually reliable William Fichtner from Buffalo) warns Sandler right at the onset of his time in jail that he is not to help the warden with any football program. Which begs the point, why are we here?
Another failing of the picture is the use of non-actors in key roles. Look, Ive written about this before, and this stunt casting just doesnt work. Exhibit A is Shaquille ONeal in Kazaam and Steel. So we get professional football players such as Bill Romanowski, Michael Irvin, and Brian Bosworth; and pro wrestlers like Kevin Nash, Steve Austin, and Bill Goldberg. None of these gentlemen have any genuine screen talent. In fact, Exhibit B in the reasons not to do it is Bosworths failed action film career. What is screen talent, you might ask? Its the ability to look natural in front of the camera. These guys deliver their dialogue stiffly. Adding a sad note is the appearance of Saturday Night Live alumni Tracy Morgan, whose career is fading very fast. Does Morgan really think that a capable African-American actor playing a sissy inmate drag queen is not the height of the worst kind of stereotyping and arch offensiveness? Whether its wearing black face or glittery boas, the social insult is the same.
I suppose it takes a lot of guts or nerve or gall to remake a popular hit. The first question that needs to be asked is this: is there any real reason to redo what worked so well the first time? The cinematic landscape is littered with vapid carbon copy remakes of terrific features. Filmmakers have to ask if they can add something different to the mix? Not can they make it better, but can they make it original? Of course it can be done. Anytime you think it cant, simply consider The Godfather and The Sopranos.
As for the dueling Longest Yards, my advice is to find and enjoy the original version. The remake has nothing whatsoever to do with contemporary life, unless you believe that greed and ineptitude and creative bankruptcy are symbols of our world today. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
The original The Longest Yard, released in 1974, was a motion picture of its time. That era in American history was part of the Vietnam miasma, with all of the heady political and social churning, and a sense of us versus them. The police, and all officials in the law enforcement system (including prison workers), were not to be trusted. Thus, the comedy tapped into the zeitgeist, with its prison convicts playing a football game against the bullying guards as the evil warden overruled the scene