In Hollywood’s ongoing effort to remake every film that made a profit, the latest victim is 1974’s The Longest Yard. In the new version, Adam Sandler plays Paul Crewe, a washed-up former NFL quarterback who is best known for a point-shaving scandal. As in the original, the old player winds up in jail after hijacking his bossy girlfriend’s car. The standard-issue evil warden (James Cromwell) wants his semi-pro football team of prison guards to win the league title so he pressures Crewe to organize the prisoners for a warm-up game.
The film’s early scenes are not only promising, but better than the same scenes in the original. Sandler nicely delivers a series of sharp put-downs, but soon thereafter the movie turns into a tedious public-service announcement for team spirit. Football in-jokes also pop up regularly—two of the guards (Brian Bosworth and Bill Romanowski) are old NFL players with reputations for having a screw loose—but they don’t generate many laughs. The other jokes are much broader and no funnier. Chris Rock plays Crewe’s sidekick, but mainly rehashes material from his old stand-up routines.
In one of the film’s most memorable visuals, Burt Reynolds (the original Paul Crewe) strides on to the practice field like a cowboy coming in from the desert. In the remake, his character is a prison lifer and Heisman Trophy winner—is this prison just for former football players?—and he wants to coach Crewe’s Mean Machine. While Reynolds is a welcome addition, he can’t save the film. The remake closely follows the plot of the original, but unlike those who made the 1974 version, Sandler and director Peter Segal were unable to balance the comic sequences against the scenes detailing the warden’s brutality. As a result, the movie’s resolutely cheerful finale is ridiculous.
The big game itself is a letdown, thanks partly to problems off the field. An ESPN 2 crew shows up to broadcast the contest, led by Chris Berman, whose routine was old in 1987. At least the cameo by Jim Rome is mercifully short, but the same cannot be said for the scenes involving the Mean Machine’s cell-block cheerleaders—ludicrously over-the-top drag queens led by Tracy Morgan. The on-field action is flat and predictable. When the filmmakers use up the original version’s playbook, they turn to some of the most widely publicized trick plays in college football history. The guards are supposed to be skilled semi-pro players, but they fall for tricks that most football-watchers would easily see coming. The Longest Yard is obviously aimed at a football audience, but the film’s shortcomings will annoy knowledgeable sports fans even more than other moviegoers.