Though still a decidedly commercial project, 1974's The Longest Yard embodied the unsentimental, anti-authoritarian rebelliousness that characterized so much '70s cinema. But that attitude gets dumbed down into slobs-vs.-snobs crudity in the new remake of Robert Aldrich's hit prison-football comedy. The 2005 version refashions the material into a dual vehicle for Chris Rock and Adam Sandler, Saturday Night Live alums who specialize in lazy, ramshackle comedies that are just okay enough to not completely suck. The Longest Yard is exactly that kind of good-enough time-waster, an amiably dopey action-comedy that's destined to amuse drunken 20-year-olds at frathouse movie nights for decades to come.
Sticking close to the original in particulars but deviating from its tough, masculine spirit, Segal's Yard casts Sandler as an aimless former football star kicked out of the pros for cheating. Now coasting through life as the kept stud of a social-climbing shrew (Courtney Cox), Sandler ends up in jail after "borrowing" Cox's car and leading the cops on a drunken chase. Inside the yard, Sandler befriends sassy enterprising con Chris Rock and goes to the prison's politically ambitious, football-obsessed warden (James Cromwell) with the idea for a warm-up prisoners-vs.-guards game that assumes considerable symbolic importance for both groups.
The Longest Yard boasts a bigger budget and cast than most Sandler vehicles, but fans will be reassured to know that it contains all the cornerstones of Sandler's comedy: unmotivated violence and near-psychotic rage, sports played in a novel fashion, slapstick brutality, Rob Schneider cameos, and freakish supporting characters whose features make caricaturing redundant. That last element seems like a leftover from the similarly underwhelming Schneider vehicles Sandler produces, and like Schneider in those films, Sandler spends much of Yard playing the straight man, letting the buffoons around him do the comic heavy lifting. Laughs doggedly fail to ensue, and Burt Reynolds' wasted presence as an old-timer eager for one more shot at glory only underlines the remake's weaknesses as comedy and drama. In the original, Reynolds underwent a convincing transformation, beginning the film amid an epic freefall, but finding something to believe in, even if it's just "sticking it to the man." By contrast, Sandler has no real character arc: He begins the film as an amiable goofball lacking direction, and ends it as an amiable goofball with slightly more direction. The original Longest Yard derived a strange poignancy out of the desperation of men whose world consists of a cold, gray prison they'll only leave inside state-issued coffins, but Sandler's boyish, featherweight Yard is strictly fun and games, on and off the field. All that's ultimately at stake are the egos of a bunch of overgrown kids.