'Yard': Flag on the Play

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 2005

THERE IS LIFE on other planets.

I know this because the other night I sat in an audience that must have included at least a few alien visitors, judging from the scattered applause (applause!) that greeted the closing credits of "The Longest Yard." (Note that I didn't say it was intelligent life.)

I know what you're going to say. A possible explanation for the ovation I witnessed is that it came from people who were too young to have seen the original -- and better -- 1974 movie on which this Adam Sandler and Chris Rock vehicle is based, a comedy-drama about a brutal, high-stakes football game between prison inmates and sadistic guards. But you don't need to have been around 31 years ago to find this remake the teensiest bit familiar. Heck, you just need to have been around some time in the past two weeks, since the kiddie soccer comedy "Kicking & Screaming" has been playing.

That's right. It's the same darn movie, and it's been made not once before, but a thousand times. Take any team of raggedy, inept but lovable athletes, pit them against a more powerful and unlikable rival, bring them within a hair's breadth of losing (one goal, one touchdown, one basket, one run, whatever) and then introduce a galvanizing event that will, in defiance of all odds -- but in full accordance with the Hollywood playbook -- produce a stunning, come-from-behind victory, not to mention one of several optional life lessons in the bargain. Teamwork? Honesty? Loyalty? Faith? Take your pick.

Oops. Have I spoiled anything? Well, maybe for the extraterrestrials among us, who apparently are the only ones who don't seem to know that the good guys, especially when they are underdogs in sports movies, always win. (Okay, so they didn't in "Friday Night Lights." Different kind of sports movie, by which I mean vastly superior.)

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy this retooling of "The Longest Yard." Sandler, who plays washed-up NFL quarterback Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, in prison for violating parole after shaving points during a pro game, and Rock, as his jailhouse sidekick, make an appealing pair of wiseacres. Each comedian's specialty -- in Rock's case rapid-fire sardonic wit, in Sandler's a sort of smirking slacker humor -- is given ample room to run when the two find themselves forced by the corrupt warden (James Cromwell) to prep a team of bumbling inmates, each of whom provides comic fodder, for a mismatched tuneup game against the warden's crack squad of brutal guards.

But the pleasure is entirely like eating cake made from cake mix. It's not like you don't know how it's going to turn out, or how it tasted the last time you ate it. The addition of Burt Reynolds, who played Crewe in the '74 film and here plays an imprisoned former Heisman Trophy winner, is, nevertheless, a nicely knowing homage.

Everyone knows, or ought to know, whether the ball is ultimately going to fall on the near or the far side of the goal line. It is, however, the arc of the pass that makes all the difference. As is to be expected in any movie where Sandler is the executive producer, the vast preponderance of the jokes have to do with making fun of gays, mental defectives, randy old women and southerners, and getting hit in the crotch, but they're delivered with such good will by the movie's genial stars that even a jaded movie critic was able to share a laugh or two with the brothers from another planet who had never heard them before.

THE LONGEST YARD (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- Contains violence, sexual and drug humor and obscenity. Area theaters.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company