- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 26, 2005

Picture Robert Aldrich’s prison pigskin comedy “The Longest Yard” with Burt Reynolds, no slouch halfback for the Florida State Seminoles, backed by contemporaries such as football pro Ed “Too Tall” Jones and wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino.

That might give you some idea of the brawn (and, perhaps, the brains) behind the remake starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock alongside the likes of National Football League alums Brian Bosworth, Michael Irvin and Bill Romanowski, and pro wrestlers Bill Goldberg (himself an ex-Atlanta Falcon), Kevin Nash and Steve Austin.

This supersized, super-vulgar new take on the (in my book, overrated) 1974 comedy has some giant laughs, but, like today’s giant defensive linemen, it runs very fast, but not very long.

The director is Peter Segal, who has directed Mr. Sandler before (“Anger Management,” “50 First Dates”). The choice of the averagely tall, averagely built Mr. Sandler to play a former professional quarterback is not quite believable; he’s more of a “water boy” than a star quarterback.

Nevertheless, Mr. Sandler fills Mr. Reynolds’ cleats as Paul Crewe, six years banned from the NFL for involvement in a point-shaving scandal. Apparently a do-nothing drunk with a hideous girlfriend (Courtney Cox, in an over-the-top cameo as a rich harridan) and a fading celebrity, Crewe gets three-to-five after an O.J. Simpson-style freeway chase in San Diego.

He winds up in a godforsaken Texas penitentiary, complete with rolling tumbleweed props, due to the string-pulling of a warden (James Cromwell) who wants Crewe to assemble a team of convicts to play a tune-up scrimmage with the prison guards. They — this being Texas — play intramural football the way the rest of the working world plays softball. The warden, this being a movie set in prison, is, of course, a sadistic spotlight-chaser with his eyes on the governor’s mansion in Austin.

When Crewe first enters the joint, the movie’s hilarious. Mr. Rock, as Caretaker (he can score drugs, vodka and, best of all, McDonald’s) is a font of shocking racial quips that will send Oprah Winfrey to her fainting couch.

In Sheldon Turner’s script, being adapted from ‘70s source material, the inmates are depicted as a lovable bunch whose essential probity we can gauge by their collective disapproval of Crewe’s point-shaving past, a transgression only slightly less grievous than child molestation by their lights. Need I add that the guards are a gang of abusive bigots?

Mr. Sandler affectlessly walks through the first act of the movie, in which Crewe must prove he can take the hard knocks of prison life. Then, with the help of a certain Heisman Trophy winner of 1955 (Mr. Reynolds), the football gets under way, and “The Longest Yard” ascends from the depths of dirty jokes into the bland middle ground of inspirational sports movies, in which the mangy underdogs triumph over the Man. (Something else happens that really kills the spirit of the movie, but I better stay mum.)

I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies, but, when they’re supposed to double as comedies — such as “Major League,” even the beloved “Caddyshack” — the sentimentality tends to kill the comedy. Not even ESPN’s Chris Berman can rescue the requisite broadcast-booth sequences from a thicket of cliches.

This one quits at the 50-yard line.

**1/2

TITLE: “The Longest Yard”

RATING: PG-13 (Crude and sexual humor; profanity; violence; drug reference)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Segal. Produced by Jack Giarraputo. Written by Sheldon Turner, based on story by Albert S. Ruddy and the 1974 screenplay by Tracy Keenan Wynn. Cinematography by Dean Semler. Edited by Jeff Gourson.

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes.

WEB SITE: www.longestyardmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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