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The Longest Yard   F

Paramount Pictures / Columbia Pictures

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Peter Segal
Writer: Sheldon Turner
Cast: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds, Nelly, James Cromwell, William Fichtner, Michael Irvin, Bill Romanowski.

Review by Rob Vaux

"Hate" is an awfully strong word to use regarding a summer comedy. And by hate, I mean in the grand cosmic sense, as in "I hate war and injustice" rather than "I hate trips to the DMV." Hating the Adam Sandler comedy The Longest Yard may seem a little over the top. It's a remake of an old Burt Reynolds movie in which a band of scruffy convicts gets a chance to play against their prison guards in a football game. Some off-color humor, some underdogs triumphing against the odds -- no need to get worked up, right?

But as the film runs its course and Sandler's usual brand of frat-boy humor starts probing for new nadirs, "hate" becomes the operating word. Hate and anger and stunning disbelief that grown-ups could actually be responsible for such foulness. How else is one to respond when white guards hurl racist epitaphs at a black convict (Nelly) while he steps and fetches with an Uncle Tom smile on his face? (Oh, I'm sorry, there's a half-assed comeuppance later, so it's OK.) Or when Sandler's character causes a high-speed car crash while drunk off his ass? (Oh, I'm sorry, he's angry at his girlfriend, so it's OK.) Or when we're subjected to homosexual stereotypes so transcendentally vile that you can actually feel them staining your eyeballs as you watch? (Oh, I'm sorry, people mock gays all the time, so it's OK.) How should we react to such sights? Are we supposed to laugh? To point and say, "Look at the funny people?" Those who made this film hide behind the fig leaf of harmless entertainment while spewing toxic drivel in our face. They think nothing of the hideous cruelty they toss out like candy bars, bringing a spirit of petty meanness to every frame. And the sad thing is, they're going to make a mint.

Sandler plays Paul Crewe, a former pro quarterback scandalized for point-shaving who finally ends up in the slammer following the aforementioned car wreck. That Crewe exhibits no discernable sympathetic features is a given -- Sandler has long tried to pass off degenerate characters as nice guys -- but it's shocking just how loathsome he turns out to be. When the chief guard (William Fichtner) welcomes him to the stir by administering a savage beating, the first thought is that it doesn't last nearly long enough. Things don't improve much when the warden (James Cromwell) asks him to help out with the guards' inter-prison football team -- said "help" ultimately consisting of assembling a competing team of cons for the guards to squash like grapes.

The bulk of the film consists of endless recruiting scenes, as Crewe picks a band of colorful prisoners (including ex-wrestler Bill Goldberg and ex-Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin) to face the warden's redneck minions (including ex-NFL thugs Bill Romanowski and Brian Bosworth). The structure is laughable and director Peter Segal has no sense of dramatic buildup, even for material as slight as this, but such flaws are forgivable. What's not forgivable is the lack of laughs -- the appalling failure to deliver anything resembling humor. Instead The Longest Yard relies on the old Sandler standby of attacking those who are different, which leads to a deluge of sophomoric crudity that only intensifies as the film goes on.

Finding easy targets to bully goes hand in hand with a level of machismo that beggars belief. The number of egos on display leads to a locker-room pecking order in which the bulk of performers spend considerable screen time affirming their cataclysmically insecure masculinity. Indeed, almost no one is confident enough to laugh at himself, which is a big problem in a film billed as a comedy. With so many big dicks swinging about (quite literally in Goldberg's case), the list of those who can appear ridiculous for the sake of a joke is limited to a few game supporting players like Nicholas Turturro and Cloris Leachman. All of which only reinforces the film's shamelessly divisive tone, as the big strong jocks bypass the humiliation that is heaped on those less athletically inclined. (The doughy, diminutive Sandler, with executive producer credit, apparently gets a free ride.)

To present such a dynamic as comedy is tasteless enough, but when The Longest Yard pushes those boundaries into racial and sexual territory, it becomes a horror show. No doubt the producers thought they were being gutsy and daring with their presentation of cheerleading prison queens mincing about in halter tops, or black convicts conferring respect solely through one's ability to play basketball. But the results are neither daring nor creative nor funny. They're sad and ugly, the product of sadistic children devoid of moral compasses. And yet they are typical of Sandler's inexplicably successful formula, a formula that The Longest Yard exploits to the fullest. This is a huge film, one of the biggest of the summer, with hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of talented people invested in it. The truly enraging thing -- the thing that turned a mere critic's dislike into something deeper and more abiding -- is that not one of those people said no to this material. Not one of them looked at themselves in the mirror and said, "I won't debase myself or my profession by appearing in worthless garbage." They just hung a price tag on their dignity and waited to cash the check. I'm embarrassed for every one of them. Clearly, they don't have the self-respect to be embarrassed for themselves.

Review published 05.26.2005.

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