No touchdown for ‘Longest Yard’

"" Way back in 1974, when Burt Reynolds was the biggest star in the galaxy, he made a bone-crunching film named The Longest Yard. Directed by man’s man Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix), it was the perfect vehicle for Reynolds and many considered it his finest hour.

More than 30 years later comes another version of The Longest Yard, a raucous if uneven crowd pleaser that is funnier than the original but nowhere near as good.

Adam Sandler plays Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a former pro quarterback who was thrown out of the sport for shaving points. In prison for getting into a scuffle with the cops after a drunken joy ride, Crewe receives an offer he can’t refuse from Warden Hazen (James Cromwell): Help the guards’ football team get ready for a big game and prison will be piece of cake; refuse, and hell will seem like paradise in comparison. Being no dummy, Crewe suggests the prisoners play a "tuneup" game against the guards. With the help of fellow prisoner and former Heisman Trophy winner Nate Scarborough (Reynolds himself), Paul assembles a team. On game day, Warden Hazen approaches Paul again – take a dive or serve hard time for a murder he didn’t commit. Will Paul disgrace himself a second time and let his new friends down? Or will he finally do the right thing and give the guards, and Warden Hazen, what’s coming to them on national TV?

Sandler seems to be getting better with every film, but is totally miscast as a former pro quarterback. One of the reasons the original worked so well was that Reynolds was a former star halfback for Florida State whose career was cut short by an injury. You would no sooner cast Sandler as a pro quarterback than you would pro wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as a social worker. Stone Cold does play a sadistic prison guard here and in that role he’s just fine.

In the first film, the guards were essentially Nazi storm troopers and the prisoners were noble victims. This worked for two reasons back then. It was 1974, the same year Nixon resigned, so authority wasn’t exactly popular. Also, by the time we got to the big game, we were rooting for the prisoners. Here, the guards are presented as one-dimensional buffoons so the big game is somewhat anticlimactic. Much of the movie is very funny, but the humor undercuts any dramatic tension needed to really make the climactic contest work.

The Longest Yard’s attempt to remake a well-regarded if not quite classic movie never scores a touchdown, even though it does pick up a few field goals and a turnover or two. Skip this and rent the original.

Note: Actor Eddie Albert, who was wonderful as the despicable Warden Hazen in the original, died last Thursday, one day before the release of the remake. He was 99.

The Longest Yard
Playing at area theaters
Two out of four

Recommended Rental

Beyond the Sea
Available Tuesday

Before dying at age 37 during heart surgery, Bobby Darin achieved more than most entertainers dream. As a singer, he hit the pop charts with almost 40 singles, many of which he wrote himself. He even had success as an actor, receiving an Oscar nomination for Captain Newman, M.D.

Starring two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, who also directed and cowrote, the Darin biopic "Beyond the Sea" moves to its own beat. Spacey did not want to make the garden-variety biographical film and he succeeded. The movie is simultaneously a valentine to its subject’s many talents and an offbeat, very entertaining film that works on many levels. See it – no, hear it – for the soundtrack if nothing else.

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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.