|The Longest Yard (2005)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds, Nelly, James Cromwell, William Fichtner
Director: Peter Segal
The producers of the updated version of “The Longest Yard” had their work cut out for them. After all, the original is one of the best and most beloved football movies ever made. However, it was not so good that the idea of a remake was blasphemy. The end result is a movie that remains steadfastly loyal to the 1974 original, only faster, meaner, and much, much funnier, thanks to lead actors Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. It is also one of the gayest movies ever made. The makers of “Top Gun” must be seething with jealousy.
Sandler stars as Paul Crewe, a former NFL quarterback disgraced in a point-shaving scandal. Now reduced to being the boy toy of a bitchy sugar mommy (a buxom, clearly post-childbirth Courteney Cox), he grabs a six pack and takes off in her super sweet ride, which results in an OJ-type high speed chase shown ‘round the world. Since he’s violated his parole, he gets three years in the clink. Crewe winds up in Texas’ Allenville Penitentiary, where the warden Hazen (James Cromwell) takes great pride in the guards that make up his semi-pro football team. But they haven’t won a title in five years, and he wants Crewe to help make them better. Crewe suggests a tune-up game, and the warden tells him to assemble a team of cons to play the guards. The only catch is, Crewe has to lose, which means shaving points, again.
For all of the things that the original got right, it was not terribly funny, even when it was trying to be. Leave it to Sandler and Chris Rock, who plays Caretaker, the inmate who can score McDonald’s and Ketel One (and, presumably, any other product placement tie-in that is required of him), to bring the funny. And boy, do they bring it. When Crewe is first pulled over by the police, the string of insults he hurls at one of the cops is so funny that the other cop (insert ESPN anchor cameo here) high fives him in appreciation. Some of the jokes may be painfully obvious- a thousand lashes to whomever, likely Sandler, insisted on the Rob Schneider cameo - but Sheldon Turner’s script is for the most part whip-smart, if short on character development. He keeps the original story line intact, and knows when not to mess with a good scene, repeating several key moments from the original almost verbatim, the ending excepted.
The football scenes are vicious. The guards are cast extremely well, with footballers Bill Romanowski and Brian Bosworth joining wrestlers Steve Austin and Kevin Nash as the meanest defense in history. And surprise, they can all act (though they took a bit involving Nash way too far). Director Peter Segal, a comedy guy by trade, shoots the game sequences like he’s Michael Bay, filming star con running back Earl Megget (Nelly) at both high speed (when he’s flying down the sidelines) and slow motion (when he jukes someone), to great effect. Bob Sapp does a superb job filling Richard Kiel’s shoes as the gentle giant Switkowski (the casting of the gigantic Dalip Singh as Turley was surely a nod to Kiel as well, as Singh looks like Kiel’s kid brother), but Michael Irvin is the biggest surprise as receiver Deacon Moss. He shows impressive acting chops, and for once can use his infamous push-off move in a good way.
Back to the gay thing. There were queen cons in the original version too, but they don’t appear until the big game (singing “Born Free,” of all things). In the remake, they make appearances early and often, with queen leader Ms. Tucker (Tracy Morgan) making googly eyes at Crewe throughout. There are also multiple references to Bill Goldberg’s “iguana,” a raunchy cheer from Ms. Tucker and his ladies, Nicholas “Boom Boom” Turturro’s deeply confused con, and one other bit that I will not spoil. In retrospect, it feels like the queens in the original were treated with more respect than they are here. Sure, they get plenty of laughs, but mostly at their expense. It appears that Turturro’s character is not the only deeply conflicted person involved with the making of this movie, though for what it’s worth, the audience roared every time the queens were onscreen.
The reason that the remake of “The Longest Yard” works is because the story is far more important than the characters. Call it a lucky accident; most movies that short change characters suffer as a result, but “Longest Yard” is not one of them. There is plenty here for fans of the original, as well as fans of Sandler and Rock, to enjoy. Just don’t try counting the dick jokes; numbers simply don’t go that high.
The widescreen collector's edition of "The Longest Yard" isn't very special by any means, but it does feature quite a number of extras that are at least worth viewing once. First up are three production featurettes that include a twenty-minute making-of documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the football sequences, and a quick look at the food the actors were eating on the set; as if we anyone outside of the movie business really gives a damn. Also included on the single-disc release are a dozen deleted scenes with optional commentary, a "Fumbles and Stumbles" outtakes special, and a music video from rapper Nelly. All in all, not a bad DVD to rent if you're aching for a little entertainment, but the collection of special feature are definitely hurting without any official audio commentary by either Sandler or Rock. Now that would have been funny.