It is important to understand this basic fact before I begin a review in which I must acknowledge "The Longest Yard" is an immensely flawed, yet rather enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
It was particularly powerful for me to see this film, a generally faithful remake of the 1974 film of the same name, the day following the death of Eddie Albert, who starred as the warden in the original film along with Burt Reynolds and the likes of Bernadette Peters, Ed Lauter and Michael Conrad.
The 1974 film had a blue collar grittiness to it...a stronger "prison" feel, a Texas feeling to it...this version, with a nearly all new cast, is a higher energy, funnier and more hip hop version...both work quite nicely in their own special way. The 1974 film worked better with a unique blend of dramatic tension sprinkled with moments of great hope and camaraderie. The 2005 version seems to work best, though perhaps less realistically, as a darkly comical film with a touch more street credibility (largely due to the appearance of a number of African-American actors and rappers in the cast).
This film stars Adam Sandler in the role Burt Reynolds made famous...it is an admitted stretch to see Sandler in the role of a star quarterback whose made one too many bad choices and ends up in this Texas federal penitentiary. Sandler, though, adds some nice touches to the role of Paul Crewe, and wisely balances the nice guy persona with a sort of smart ass, screw up in a way that keeps him likeable, but not completely sympathetic. Sandler is becoming better at finding roles that allow him to balance his comic gifts with his limited range, dramatic acting gifts. Sandler will never be a Laurence Olivier, but he's one of the more gifted comic actors and has a range that with the right film selection may allow him to finally grow beyond his schoolboy, low-brow film repertoire.
Sandler is clearly the lead in this film, despite the football angle and the number of performers in the cast. Yet Sandler, who also acted as the Executive Producer of this film, has also clearly given an opportunity for several others to shine...even if it is with limited time onscreen.
The greatest screentime is shared with fellow SNL grad Chris Rock, who portrays "Caretaker," as a caring, inspiring AND very wise-cracking team manager/benefactor who seems to have a knack for arranging for everything the team needs. Rock is an actor who seems destined for a career as a character actor...for one, his simple manner of speech will always limit the roles in which he can be convincing. Rock has this sort of rhythmic, staccato pacing speech that is so distinct that the minute one hears it the name "Chris Rock" comes to mind. In certain roles, that can be a blessing but it can also be quite the distraction in a dramatic or intense scene. Still, Rock controls his personality well here and generally comes across with a solid, effective performance.
James Cromwell takes over the Eddie Albert role, and adds his own unique touches to it. Cromwell, in my mind, will be forever cursed by his wonderful performance in "Babe." I will, it seems, forever see him in that character...so, to see this kind of role (which Cromwell has a history of doing) is a bit traumatic. Still, Cromwell plays the role effectively even if it does lack some of the dramatic tension that made the original film so powerful.
The film has a wide variety of supporting roles, some working MUCH better than others. We have another SNL grad, Tracy Morgan, showing up as a cross-dressing inmate who heads up the cheerleading squad. Morgan clearly immerses himself in the role and creates a funny, yet likeable character in what could easily have been a throwaway role. Then, there's Burt...yep, the original's star, Burt Reynolds, shows up here as the coach of the team...while he goes nowhere near the marvelous acting he offered in the original film, Reynolds is a nice touch here and gives a relaxed, effective performance.
Strong performances are also offered by Nicholas Turturro as "Brucie," a talentless team member with a funny, small role, rapper Nelly as "Meggett," the team's running back, former football great Michael Irvin as "Deacon," Dalip Singh as Turley (in a role that is oddly reminiscent of "Chief" from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and the wondrous Cloris Leachman as the warden's secretary. Leachman, who also co-starred with Sandler in last year's "Spanglish," is simply marvelous here as an over-sexed fan of Crewe's underwear ads.
There are numerous other appearances worth mentioning including wrestling's "Goldberg," Joey Diaz and several lesser known rappers. Long-time Sandler co-castmate Allen Covert makes a brief appearance in this film, but it's a well-placed and effective one. Covert hardly ever works in other films, but seems to always be perfectly cast in Sandler films. He's also a producer on this film. Finally, Courtney Cox appears early on here as Sandler's fed-up girlfriend...it's a brief, but fun appearance in a rather slight role.
On the flip side, someone needs to control Sandler's desire to always give his friends a cameo. The first Rob Schneider cameo in a Sandler film was funny and entertaining...this one jumps out at the screen and is simply awkwardly placed and completely inappropriate to the film. If Schneider uses the line "You can do it" one more time, he should be banned from films permanently.
In most ways, I have to give the edge to the original film. It featured stronger character development, a stronger cast and better direction in the form of pacing, conflict management and the technical aspects of filmmaking. This version scores points for a simply kick ass soundtrack, solid direction of the comic moments and a believable cast that works well together.
A tad more entertaining than its B- would indicate, "The Longest Yard" won't win any awards but it's another growth film for Sandler. Featuring a solid cast, killer soundtrack and enough laugh out loud moments to entertain most folks "The Longest Yard" is definitely more hit than miss.