More noise than signal

The Longest Yard

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Once again, I’m upset. This looked to be another film ripe for the Vitriol Cannon treatment. I mean, it’s a remake, it’s an Adam Sandler vehicle that seemed to harken back to before Sandler was funny, it looked to ape American Pie and it’s about American Football. The bile ducts were opening from the first trailer onwards, yet much like Must Love Dogs this turns out to be far too decent a film to hate.

It’s not much better than decent mind you, but if this summer’s dismal output is indicative of the way things are going we ought to be making hay while the sun still just about shines. Paul Crewe (Sandler) plays a fallen star quarterback, implicated in a match fixing scandal that ends his career. Descending into an alcoholic rage, an ill advised drunk driving excursion sees him thrown into Warden Hazen (James Cromwell)’s slammer. Hazen’s pulled strings to get him here, to browbeat and blackmail him to help train his guard’s American Football team that while decent, haven’t picked up any silverware in the inter-prison tournaments of late.

Crewe’s bright idea is a tune up game against a sacrificial lamb to bolster confidence before the season starts in earnest. Further talking himself into a hole, he’s charged with cobbling a team together from the motley crew of inmates to take on the guards. Difficult perhaps, given that he’s pretty much universally hated, point shaving apparently being the most heinous crime in America for the purposes of this film. Still, with help from prison fixer Caretaker Farrell (Chris Rock) and Coach Nate Scarborough (Burt Reynolds, player of Sandler’s role in the original). Anyhoo, after proving his commitment to the cause and inadvertently aided by the guards of the facility being horrible, racist people a decent side is soon assembled with the prime objective of beating seven shades of something out of the guards in relatively legal fashion.

Which, barring a few layers of machinations and blackmailing, is pretty much it. With about half of the film taking place on the hallowed turf of the game field, that’s probably enough to be getting on with. While I’ve no personal experience of the original, I’m semi-reliably informed that it placed a little more emphasis on character development while neuvo Longest Yard is content to play for laughs and be a little fluffier. Fair enough really, and for the most part it’s working inside it’s own little morally skewed world. A world where the criminals are far better people than the barbarian guards on the free side of the cages, a world that encompasses every gaol in cinematic history as far as I can recall. Perhaps wisely, the actions that led to the other inmate’s incarcerations are left unmentioned – after all it’s a little harder to root for Earl Megget (rap nuisance Nelly) or Torres (Lobo Sebastian, who has teh bezt name evah!!!!11!) if you knew they’d been running around beating grannies to death with frozen golden labrador puppies or worse, selling pirate DVDs.

Director Peter Segal keeps things trucking along nicely enough, especially by showing the usually tedious, largely static game that is American Football in a quick, snappy showreel of action. This marks the third Segal/Sandler pairup, and also the weakest. Not too much of a criticism, after all Anger Management and 50 First Dates turned out rather well after all. Oddly enough, it’s Sandler’s most restrained performance in a few years, seeming to saunter fairly lackadaisically through the serviceable script happy enough to let most of the playacting be carried out by others. Far more oddly, given that Rock is again in a ‘mouthy sidekick’ role, he keeps things fairly reined in also, which suits the slower paced opening half to a tee.

Shockingly, despite a cast full of rappers, real life football players and no less than three professional wrestlers (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Kevin “Diesel” Nash and Bill “Goldberg” Goldberg), the flawed performances come from the actors themselves, although the scripting is implicit in this. Cromwell and William Fichtner (playing guard Captain Knauer) are forced into the bad guys of the piece, needlessly nasty humans that it’d be lovely to think didn’t exist in real life, certainly not ones employed in positions so open to the abuses they perpetrate. There’s never any rational given for the role reversal of criminals = good, guards = bad, and were this trying to do anything more than be relatively diverting filmmaking for a few hours it’d cripple it horribly.

However, The Longest Yard sets its sights relatively low and meets them admirably, but don’t go into it expecting any affecting drama in the Shawshank Redemption mould, thereby fulfilling the contractually obligated mention of The Shawshank Redemption in any review tangentially related to a prison system. The Longest Yard is consistently amusing, more in the wry smile and occasional chuckle sense rather than inducing fits of stool-loosening hilarity, but that’s alright. We’ve seen far worse attempts at a comedy.

It’s alright, Jack. It seems that ‘alright’ is all that it was looking for, and perhaps we should be harsher on it. After all, there’s nothing in here that you could take away and think about, no food for the soul if you’ll allow the hint of pretension to shine through as it always threatens to do when I’m behind the keyboard. Mentioning this is a luxury afforded by living in a city that rejoices in showing as many examples of cinema regardless of providence, and may never occur to anyone stuck in a one horse town with an outmoded fleapit showing only the mainstreamiest of the mainstream (Stafford, I’m looking at you). If that’s all you have you won’t notice what you missing, so while this doesn’t have the startling concepts of Oldboy, the importance of Downfall or the aching beauty of 2046, it’s an ‘alright’ piece of entertainment. Sometimes, that’ll do.

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