Title: The Longest Yard
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Sport
Director: Peter Segal
Screenwriters: Albert S. Ruddy
Starring: Adam Sandler, Burt Reynolds, Chris Rock
It’s a good thing, at least, that Adam Sandler seems to have given up on playing mentally retarded and/or utterly deranged protagonists, which he hasn’t done since Mr. Deeds, the indisputable low point of his career. Since then, his films haven’t been good, exactly (with the exception of the staggeringly awesome Punch-Drunk Love), but they have at least been something less (more?) than insufferable, culminating in his downright classy turn in James L. Brooks’ Spanglish late last year. Now comes his long-dreaded remake of The Longest Yard which, while mercifully not reversing the former trend, certainly puts a damper on the latter. The comedy is not really “insufferable” so much as it is an utter blank, so weak, gutless, and unsurprising that it may as well not exist. The critical establishment will likely hate it, but that strikes me as a bizarre reaction: how can you hate something that’s not even there? For my part, The Longest Yard inspired no strong feelings of any sort, which is probably the best reason not to see it.
I am not in the camp that believes the terms “vulgar,” “puerile,” “sophomoric” or “immature” to be automatic pejoratives. Anything can be funny: dick jokes, fart jokes, gratuitous profanity; hell, I’ve been known to laugh at my share of racist and sexist humor. And anything that’s funny — truly funny — ceases to be offensive for that very reason (of course when something is funny because it is offensive, things get interesting). No one affiliated with The Longest Yard has the wit or intelligence to make this happen, but it gets worse: the movie is too tame, generic, and enraptured with the PG-13 to be legitimately offensive. That, at least, would have been interesting. I would even have gone for pure shock value; at least that might hold my attention.
Of course, Sandler has never legitimately pushed the envelope. With several recent exceptions, his films have been designed to shock a 13 year-old, not to offend any but the most puritanical of adults. Sometimes, when the screenplays were bizarre enough and translated to the screen with sufficient energy (as in Happy Gilmore), they were funny anyway. Here, it’s just tedious: the film goes through the motions of the supposedly shocking — prisoners in drag as cheerleaders, yes, gags about abnormally large penises, ha ha — occasionally mixing in some uncomfortable physical brutality, mostly courtesy of the workmanlike William Fichtner as the villainous security guard and opposing quarterback.
In rare instances, the screenwriters will rudimentarily think through a joke, and it’ll magically work. There’s a bit about the scheming cons substituting estrogen for a guard’s anabolic steroids (amusingly contained in a bottle on which “anabolic steroids” is written in large red lettering). This is hardly a gag of blistering originality, but the follow-through — involving the player in question assaulting the football field with exaggerated feminism — at the very least draws a laugh.
But that’s rare. The vast majority of the jokes are barely given a thought — no set-up, no maintenance, nothing. The screenplay just deposits them and moves on. We get hideous racial stereotypes, Chris Rock’s incessant mugging, and of course we are expected to laugh hysterically at the mere sight of transvestite cheerleaders. None of this angers or upsets me, but some of it depresses me; here’s a production costing tens of millions of dollars, and it is stunning how little skill and imagination went into it.
So it’s mostly like I said: The Longest Yard commits no cardinal sins against filmmaking, morality, or anything of that nature. But it has no tone, no charm, no big laughs, and virtually nothing of interest to offer. It is a void.