The Longest Yard is about a man named Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) who lands in prison for violation of his probation (intentionally throwing a pro football game, thereby participating in fraud) after taking his girlfriend’s Bently for a spin while intoxicated, accompanied by another 6-pack. A former NFL MVP quarterback, he is recruited by the warden to get the prisoners together for a warm-up game against the guards, who have a prison-sponsored semi-pro league team that once dominated their conference but have fallen out of championship form of late. In prison, Crewe is befriended by “Caretaker” (Chris Rock), a wisecracking inmate with enough connections to get anything to the inside that a person might like (McDonald’s cheeseburgers are better currency than cigarettes in this jailhouse). The prison is in Texas (where else?) and the game attracts enough attention that ESPN signs on to carry it, providing a national stage on which the drama of the game, and the climax of the movie, will unfold.
The story is a remake of a 70’s movie by the same title in which Burt Reynolds played the lead. I’ve haven’t seen the original, so I don’t know how much the characters and the details of the plot are similar (or not). Burt Reynolds appears in this one, with a prominant role: an inmate who was a Heisman trophy winner at Oklahoma who becomes the coach for the inmate team. Reynolds’ real life connection is that he played football at Florida State during his college days. Several others with a connection to the world of sport show up too: Brian Bosworth, Michael Irvin and a few other former players, Jim Rome, Chris Berman and Dan Patrick (though Patrick is in a non-sports related cameo) are in there, as are “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Goldberg of Pro Wrestling fame. The appearances range from cameo to significant role. And, rapper Nelly stars as well.
Chris Rock and Adam Sandler have good chemistry and are funny. If you like the brand of humor that your used to associating with these two, you’ll enjoy their relationship as well. At times, Rock is a steady stream of humorous and irreverent jokes. In one conversation, he trys to cheer up Sandler who’s feeling down by encouraging him about what he’s got going for him after all, adding, “Smile, you’re white!” Rock also speaks for the other inmates and the audience when he asserts, “You can kill people, rob people–you can beat up your own grandmother for her pension check and no one will think anything about it in here, but why did you throw that game?” The question mark of the thown game haunts Sandler’s character Crewe throughout the film.
For what it is, in the movie that it’s in (that enough qualification for you?), their relationship is touching, as is Crewe’s inner struggle with his past and what that means for his present and future. This allows the movie to remain within the vein of “feel-good” movies that Sandler has been in lately. If you’re willing to go where the movie wants to take you emotionally and connect with the prisoners (the guards are abusive and the warden is corrupt), then you’ll be able to experience the movie in this way. If you just can’t, you will be frustrated and probably have a hard time enjoying The Longest Yard, even if you want to. The plot’s inherent choice of the prisoners as the protangonists is too strong.
I’m reasonably certain that anyone who sees the previews for this movie and thinks it looks like something they would enjoy will. The Longest Yard seemed to always have this audience in mind and played every bit to them (I’m one, by the way), from the humor to the “softer” moments. This is to say that I didn’t think it tried to do too much and over-reach in that regard. It wasn’t trying to be something that it wasn’t. At the same time as I say that, however, I will stand slightly in tension with myself by saying that the acting perfomances by several key figures and in various scenes was simply weak and unbelievable. The professional actors were all fine–if you like them in general, you’ll like them here. The extras are the issue. Nelly was alright, though kind of cheesy. Michael Irvin (former Dallas Cowboy WR) was actually not bad in most places, his first appearance notwithstanding. A couple of the other former football players and pro-wrestlers were absolutly wooden in their delivery but not as bad as Shaq and Penny Hardaway in Blue Chips, if you saw that (Nick Nolte plays a college basketball coach who gives into the pressure to pay players in order to get top recruits). There is a cheese-meter running on and off, but most of the time, that’s on purpose.
The bottom line is that part of the movie is not at all interested in taking itself seriously, but another part does want to take itself just a little bit seriously, if you’re willing to let it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I was successfully entertained just the same. If The Longest Yard did everything that I think it was trying and could reasonably be expected to do, I would give it 3 out of 4 stars for a film of its caliber. Often you pay a little price for the acting and chemistry that comes with some celebrity cameos and roles, which it does, but it still accomplished most of what it was going for.
2 1/2 out of 4 stars.