The Longest Yard

(Peter Segal, USA, 2005)


Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard (1974) has been remade both under its British title (Mean Machine, 2001) and now under its original title. But star and co-producer Adam Sandler may not have been entirely joking on the Australian television show Rove Live when he claimed to have never seen his source.

This is because, for many viewers today, The Longest Yard, like many classic films, mainly only exists as a high concept or a tag line: a bunch of hardened prisoners fight their brutal wardens in a football game. And that is, indeed, an excellent premise – with, contained in it, a fascinating tale about power and the resistance to power that can be inflected in any number of ways (Utopianism, Fatalism, Life's-Like-That-ism ... ).

Spookily, two key contributors to the original film, actor Eddie Albert and writer Tracy Keenan Wynn, died recently – and wags on the Internet were quick to lay the blame on Sandler's jokey remake. But there is at least one respectful homage paid here to that era in '70s cinema when a tough-minded world-view and raucous entertainment were not mutually exclusive: the presence of Burt Reynolds, older but just as willing to put himself on the line out on the field when it counts.

Sandler is an intriguing figure in contemporary cinema, too often dismissed a mere, knockabout Saturday Night Live alumnus. This Longest Yard consolidates his principal aim as a storyteller: to make trash comedies that send themselves up rotten, and yet still manage (unlike, say, Will Ferrell's Anchorman [2004]) to emotionally involve us in the feel-good trajectory of a fallen hero.

Paul (Sandler) has fallen far. A failure in his life and in his career as a NFL quarterback, Paul arrives in jail with the reputation of having deliberately thrown a match for personal gain. And this looks set to happen all over again once Warden Hazen (James Cromwell) leans on Paul to lead the prisoner team in an event designed to boost the Warden's political future.

In many ways, The Longest Yard displays all the usual problems of the action-comedy genre. The violence is never quite tough enough. The sports scenes are sometimes lazily patched together by director Peter Segal (Anger Management, 2004). The plot too easily gives way for the sake of yet another low joke about gays in prison, or a fast-talking routine from the sidelined Chris Rock. And the complexity of Aldrich's view of social conflict has definitely disappeared somewhere down the track. Where the original tended towards a despairing fatalism (fleeting resistance counts for little in the end, the system asserts itself), this remake opts for a 'hey, didn't we give 'em hell' slap on the back as the prison bars close once more.

Still, for all its flaws, the film does manage to be pretty entertaining. Many in the ensemble cast are fun to watch, the hard-driving music pumps the scenes along in the style of Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday (1999), and Sandler has mastered the art of passing, in a heartbeat, from droll, shambling comedy to the convincing portrayal of an ordinary guy on the lookout for personal redemption.

MORE Segal: Nutty Professor II

© Adrian Martin June 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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