Welcome to the latest step in the long, slow and often painful evolution of Adam Sandler. This remake of Burt Reynolds’ anti-authoritarian football flick finds America’s favorite man-child attempting to split the difference between his two screen personas: goofy, idiotic, sports-nut Sandler (The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore) and sensitive, caring, redemptive Sandler (Spanglish, The Wedding Singer). If that sounds like a schizophrenic idea, wait until you see the movie.
To be fair, The Longest Yard doesn’t commit the usual Hollywood crime of being a radically altered, name-only remake of its source material. It’s something far worse: a textbook example of how you can be mostly faithful to an original story and still get everything wrong. The basics are all in place: Sandler plays the washed-up, game-throwing former pro quarterback Paul Crewe, who winds up behind bars for smashing up a sports car owned by his ball-busting girlfriend (Courteney Cox Arquette, in a thankless cameo). Once in prison, he encounters an evil, pigskin-obsessed warden (James Cromwell) who’s determined to scrimmage his guards against the convicts. To this end, he forcibly recruits Crewe to whip the inmates into shape, which he reluctantly does with the help of his meek buddy Caretaker (Chris Rock, overacting wildly) and fellow inmate and former coach Nate Scarborough (a worse-for-wear Burt Reynolds, resembling nothing so much as a thick slab of beef jerky).
But where the 1974 hit was low-key, sly and subversive, this new version is amped-up, dumbed-down and over-the-top at every turn. It’s as if director Peter Segal told the screenwriters to rent the original and adapt it while doped up on steroids, Viagra and a few gallons of Red Bull. It’s not a comedy; it’s more like a gay S&M fantasy flick. Consider, if you will, the loving, low-angle shots of oil-glistened, muscle-bound thugs, or the constant references to dick size, or the superhuman abuse Sandler endures at the hands of the sadistic guards who, in their sleeveless black-spandex tees, look like they just walked off the set of a C&C Music Factory video. If that’s not enough, witness the giggling chorus of transvestite "bitches" or the tough guy who has his steroids switched with estrogen supplements. And critics said HBO’s Oz was made for a latent-homosexual audience.
The major problem: The Longest Yard is too busy making gay jokes to concentrate for a second on the characters. Buying Sandler as a former underwear-model stud is a stretch to say the least, but he admirably maintains a laid-back charm without devolving into his usual shtick. Still, the sanitized screenplay doesn’t give us a reason to care about Crewe’s redemption, or even to think that he needs redeeming in the first place. The original at least had the guts to portray Reynolds as an unrepentant asshole in need of comeuppance. The only time there’s anything at stake in this new version is when Crewe swallows his pride on the basketball court to try to recruit some of the prison’s best athletes. And when the best scene in a football movie involves some other sport entirely, you know you’re in trouble.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.