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'Longest Yard' falls way short

Even Burt Reynolds can't save this overblown remake

By David SterrittFilm critic of The Christian Science Monitor / May 27, 2005



Adam Sandler has mastered his minimalist acting style so thoroughly that he's almost an island of calm in the boisterous comedies he tends to favor.

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Even the violence-ridden farce of "The Longest Yard" rarely manages to ruffle his understated manner. But then, there's no need for Mr. Sandler to indulge in unseemly antics, since almost everyone else in the movie is about as sensible and believable as Wile E. Coyote in a "Road Runner" cartoon.

Why should Sandler demean himself when director Peter Segal surrounds him with oafs, blockheads, and weirdos? Ditto for Burt Reynolds, who gives the film another tiny dose of dignity.

The movie is set in Texas, a state that's serious about two things: prisons and football. Or so says the screenplay, which uses a shamelessly rigged playbook to illustrate its point. The hero (Sandler) is a former gridiron star jailed for reckless behavior. His enemy (James Cromwell) is a warden who forces him to coach the inmates' football squad. The hero's sidekicks (Reynolds and Chris Rock) are con artists who agree to help him. The other main characters are their fellow prisoners - i.e., the aforementioned oafs, blockheads, and weirdos.

"The Longest Yard" is based on a 1974 movie of the same title directed by Robert Aldrich, an intelligent Hollywood filmmaker who knew how to suggest serious points - often about the ubiquity of aggression in modern society - while pleasing crowds with action and suspense. By contrast, Segal piles on the action and suspense while forgetting any meaningful points he might have made.

The result is a quickly paced, slickly filmed entertainment that's also as crude and rude as the PG-13 rating will allow. It's mighty mean-spirited too, aiming "satirical jibes" at everyone from black illiterates to white rednecks, from breakers of the law to enforcers of the law, from society's elites to society's dregs. Homophobia and sexism abound.

The movie gains a bit of momentum during its big-game climax - convicts against guards - thanks to effects that make up in pizzazz what they lack in credibility. In all, though, this is a pigskin extravaganza you can easily afford to miss.

Rated PG-13; contains violence and vulgarity.

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