The Longest Yard Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/02/2005
I have been pleasantly surprised with remakes and I have been let down by remakes in the past few years. Fortunately, the former outweighs the latter for me. I’m one of the few critics that doesn’t automatically jump to hating a remake if it is done right, and I highly enjoy it if it surpasses the original. In most cases when a good film is outdone by its remake, I like both versions. In the case of The Longest Yard, I thought that the remake was better mostly because I thought that the original 1974 version was just okay, but not a film that I could say that I’d want to see over and over.
It’s been a bad few years for MVP professional quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe (Adam Sandler.) He was banned from the league years ago for point shaving, and now all he does is sit around his girlfriend Lena’s (Courteney Cox) house and get drunk. One night while upstairs during one of her fancy parties, he traps her in the closet and takes off with her Bentley. Two traffic cops (Dan Patrick and Christopher Neiman) stop him while he was swerving all over the road. They instantly recognize him, but he insults the shorter of the two cops and takes off (after backing into the cops’ cruiser.) Lena has gotten out of the closet by her gay friend Walt (Patrick Bristow) by now and has reported the car stolen. Paul causes a huge pileup of police cars and breaks up with Lena on TV while the news cameras film him. He is then sentenced to three years at the Allenville Federal Penitentiary. The first person he meets at the prison is head prison guard Capt. Knauer (William Fichtner), who warns him not to accept an invitation by Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) to quarterback the prison’s football team. Knauer is the team’s current quarterback, and he doesn’t want Paul to do it, so he makes his point by beating the crap out of him. When he ultimately meets with Hazen, along with Hazen’s Col. Sanders-looking political advisor Errol Dandridge (Walter Williamson), he politely “suggests” that he join the team, or things will be hard for him. Paul just wants to do his time, but he grudgingly does it anyway. He really doesn’t want to QB, but he does suggest that the guards’ team, which includes Lambert (Bill Romanowski), Dunham (Steve Austin), Garner (Brian Bosworth), and Engleheart (Kevin Nash), should play another practice team in order to get them ready. Hazen thinks that is a great idea, so he assigns Paul to put together a prisoner team for the guards to play against. This proves to be a hard task, since no one likes him (because of the whole point shaving thing.) He does acquire one friend, a “supplier” named Caretaker (Chris Rock), who helps in the recruiting. For his part, Paul decides to hit a fellow inmate over the head with a cafeteria tray, which lands him in the “hot box,” and earns the respect of the other prisoners. The first to join is Brucie (Nick Turturro Jr.), a determined but crappy player, who has a secret relationship with his “girlfriend,” Ms. Tucker (Tracy Morgan.) Also joining up is Big Tony (Joey “Coco” Diaz), a former Kansas State player who is now a little flabby, and Switkowski (Bob Sapp), a huge but simple-minded man. Those three alone aren’t going to cut it, so Caretaker suggests that Paul go after the black prisoners (aside from Switkowski, who is black as well.) First person he recruits is talented running back Earl Megget (Nelly), who joins up after Paul plays one-on-one basketball with Cheeseburger Eddy (Terry Alan Crews), who got his name because he can get cheeseburgers for anyone. Paul then meets with two of the biggest and meanest prisoners to join the team. Torres (Lobo Sebastian) agrees to join when he hears that they will be getting to tackle guards, and Turley (Dalip Singh), a Goliath who plays ping-pong and needs subtitles when he speaks (mumbling is apparently a language.) After seeing three of the guards hassle Earl, Eddy joins as well. Deacon Moss (Michael Irvin), Joey Battle (Bill Goldberg), and a Native American named Baby Face Bob (Steve Reevis) round out the team under the promise of no work duty and good food (plus they want to tackle the guards too.) Now that Paul has a team, which they call Mean Machine, they need a coach. He asks the 1955 former Heisman Trophy winner Nate Scarborough (Burt Reynolds), who is conveniently serving time at Allenville, to coach. Nate and his assistant Walter “Skitchy” Rivers (Edward Bunker), who once hit the Warden and now serves a longer sentence, train the team. Nate suggests that Paul should be the quarterback, which he finally agrees to do. Mean Machine start out badly, but they start to get better, which angers Hazen. He has pyromaniac prison snitch Unger (David Patrick Kelly) spy on Paul and his team. Paul had some ideas of his own to win the big game with the guards, which included replacing Engleheart’s steroids with estrogen and flirting with Hazen’s secretary, Lynette Reynolds (Cloris Leachman), to get the guards’ training tapes. When tragedy happens and Hazen threatens to pin the blame on Paul, the former NFL quarterback has to decide if he wants to throw the game in order to live out his sentence in peace, or try to win the game, which will earn the other prisoners’ admiration and give him some self-respect.
Movie fans may disagree with me in thinking that the original was just okay. Most of them would even say that it is the greatest football movie of all time. I’m sorry if any of you feel that way, but it just didn’t do it for me. That’s not saying that this version is the greatest football movie of all time, but for entertainment value, I liked it better.
For the fans, the remake is extremely faithful to the original. Aside from the obvious existence of Reynolds, it also features Ed Lauter, the original Captain Knauer, as a golfing buddy of Hazen named Duane. What makes this one different from the original? I think that it’s the little things that always appear in a Happy/Madison (Sandler’s production company) movie. It has exaggerated characters (mainly the Mean Machine team), a useless character who is there for no reason other than being visually funny (the Dandridge character for me), and, of course, the presence of Rob Schneider doing his line, “You can do it!” A Happy/Madison movie is always panned by other critics but loved by Sandler fans, and I happen to be a critic who is a Sandler fan, so that is probably why I liked it.
The performances worked for the most part amongst the core cast. Sandler is surprisingly low-key once he enters Allenville, allowing the more outrageous characters to shine. He did credibly look like a quarterback though. Rock is okay, but I’ve noticed that he isn’t one of the best actors around (actually, my colleague Reggie McDaniel noticed this, but I had to agree with him.) Rock hasn’t actually “acted” since 1991’s New Jack City, but he has been part of some very funny movies (1999’s Dogma is his best, mainly because it is a Kevin Smith movie.) He is a hilarious comedian, and his Emmy-winning HBO talk show and specials were excellent, but I keep hoping for Rock to give a Will Smith or a Jamie Foxx performance someday. Reynolds doesn’t do a lot in the movie, even though he is a major presence. Cromwell is good as Hazen, but I will admit, in this case only, the original Hazen, played by Eddie Albert (who died three days before this movie was released), was better. Fichtner always plays a great bad guy, but his character changed so dramatically near the end that it confused me. Since this movie wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously, it was acceptable that most of the supporting characters were played by mostly former professional football players and wrestlers. If you kept that in mind, it made the movie all that more humorous.
In fact, the supporting characters probably made this version of The Longest Yard more enjoyable than the original. For me, the best Reynolds movie will always be 1972’s Deliverance, so it wasn’t necessarily his contribution to the movie that made it better. The supporting characters cracked me up as they always do in a Happy/Madison movie. This movie is Sandler’s third production with director Peter Segal (the other two being 2003’s Anger Management and last year’s 50 First Dates.) Why remake a movie that most fans consider the perfect football movie? When that “perfect football movie” isn’t quite so perfect to me, I have to give the remake the kudos. It scored a touchdown with me at least.
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