The Longest Yard

If movies were just in the moment, then the remake of The Longest Yard would feel fresh and exciting. Movies are not just in the moment, they’re eternal, and have a long shelf life. Which means anyone who cares can check out the 1974 Burt Reynolds original.

The new Longest Yard isn’t a bad movie, and thirty-one years after the fact, manages to score a first and ten with its intended audience, who were probably conceived in the back seat of car at the drive-in while their parents listened to the original over a tiny mono speaker.

The new films seems like it’s on auto-drive, a by-the-play book remake. If you’ve seen the original, then you’ve seen the remake. The difference is tone, and that’s where the new Longest Yard drops the ball. Instead of being a movie about men, the remake is about boys pretending to be men. With his furry upper lip and testosterone driven swagger, Burt Reynolds was a real man. His Paul “Wrecking” Crewe felt like someone who could take care of himself.

Adam Sandler plays Crewe like an overgrown brat, someone who uses words instead of action to save his ass. It’s difficult to believe Sandler would last a day in a Texas prison much less play pro football. When Reynolds’ Crewe crossed the authorities, we knew it was an act of defiance. When Sandler does the same, it feels like a prank.

The story remains the same, and while not a note by note rendition, you’ll be able to name that tune the moment Crewe bails on his nagging girlfriend (Courtney Cox), steals her expensive car, and leads police on an extended chase which ends in a massive Blues Brothers-style pile-up.

Once a former gridiron golden boy, Crewe has been living a life of delusion after being caught shaving points. Universally hated by everyone, Crewe is sentenced to three years in prison. Crewe just wants to serve his time, but Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) has other plans. He wants Crewe to head up his guard football team. Head guard Captain Knauer (William Fichtner) makes it clear his participation isn’t wanted or needed.

In a compromise, Crewe offers to coach a team of convicts to play a practice game against the guards. With the help of resourceful inmate Caretaker (Chris Rock), Crewe assembles a team of the most feared and dangerous cons. He also receives assistance from the Warden’s oversexed secretary (Cloris Leachman) and former Heisman Trophy-winning coach Nate Scarborough (Reynolds, bridging the gap), Crewe jumps at the chance to play ball one last time.

I loved the original Longest Yard, and after some reservations and convenient memory displacement, managed to accept the remake on its own terms. I believe the biggest fumble was making the new version teen friendly. There’s still a fair amount of rough and tumble action and language on and off the field, but it seems tame by comparison. Restrained by a PG-13 rating, writer Sheldon Turner turns the grueling game of football into a friendly scrimmage.

Which is too bad when your consider what made the 1974 version so much fun was its take-no-prisoners approach. When the prisoners and guards took to the field in the original, we knew, from previous experience, the game was going to be brutal. The final game in the remake feels like a comedy routine.

Which is what you get when you cast comedians as actors instead of actors who can be funny. For The Longest Yard to work, we have to believe the cons have a chance, but with this group, it’s more of a con game. On that level, Chris Rock stands out as Caretaker, a prisoner mover and shaker always armed with a smart remark.

Jock Strapped

Longest Yard Remake Prisoner of Times

The Longest Yard

Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds, James Cromwell. Directed by Peter Segal. Rated PG-13. 114 Minutes.

Larsen Rating: $5.00

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