Sandler, Rock fail to convert on ‘Longest Yard’

“The Longest Yard”

Paramount Pictures/MTV Films

Directed by Peter Segal

Written by Sheldon Turner, based on a 1974 screenplay by Tracy Keenan Wynn

Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, James Cromwell, Michael Irvin, Nelly, William Fichtner and Burt Reynolds

PG-13/114 minutes

Opens May 27, 2005

Two and a half out of four stars

It’s official-Hollywood has run out of ideas. In 2004, Hollywood produced 12 remakes. That number has ballooned to 20 in 2005, with literally dozens and dozens more coming to a theater near you in the next year or two alone.

The latest is a modern update of the gridiron classic, “The Longest Yard.” Sports fans everywhere cringed at the announcement that the wonderful Burt Reynolds dramedy would be transformed into an Adam Sandler vehicle-and with good reason.

The original film won the 1974 Golden Globe for Best Picture-Musical or Comedy. Suffice it to say that this new Sandler/Chris Rock version will not get such lofty recognition from the Hollywood Foreign Press.

However, sports fans can breathe a small sigh of relief-the new “Longest Yard,” while ultimately unsuccessful, is much better than it could have been, should have been, or had any right to be.

The remake follows the same plot as the original, and does so quite faithfully-even taking entire scenes verbatim from the original. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the film centers on quarterback Paul Crewe (Sandler), a former pro football MVP who was banned forever after a point-shaving scandal. Disenchanted with life and sick of his materialistic girlfriend (Courteney Cox, obviously wearing a push-up bra), Crewe takes her Bentley one night and leads local police on a high-speed chase throughout downtown Pittsburgh, culminating in a multi-car pile-up.

While serving a three-year sentence in Allenville Penetentiary, Crewe is commissioned by the warden (James Cromwell) to put together a football team made up of inmates to play a tune-up game against the warden’s “Prison League” team. En route to the inevitable “big game” that takes up the film’s climactic final 30 minutes, Sandler puts together a team with the help of Caretaker (Chris Rock), the team’s manager, and another former football star, Nate Scarborough (Reynolds, now on his umpteenth facelift).

In a transparent effort to get Chris Berman to make a cameo, the big game is-I kid you not-televised on ESPN2, because as we all know, ESPN2 regularly televises prison football games.

While the film’s faithfulness to the original material is admirable, it also suffers from many of the same pitfalls that doom most remakes-and, for that matter, most sequels.

This remake might have worked had the filmmakers found someone who actually knew how to write, instead of Sheldon Turner, who relies solely on prototypes, clichs and really crappy jokes. The extent of Rock’s character is indistinguishable from his stand-up comedy persona-and like his most recent HBO special, most of the jokes fall flat. For a while there, it looked like the film was going to turn into one big race joke. (Hey, audiences, guess what?! Black people and white people are different. And that’s funny!”)

Needless to say, racial epithets are played for laughs.

Rock’s stand-up act is unnecessary, uninspired and all too familiar. However, the supporting cast is one of the film’s highlights. Former Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin and hip-hop artist Nelly are funny and engaging as ex-cons and former WCW wrestler Kevin Nash nearly steals the show.

Sandler is not nearly as annoying as he usually is, which is a big plus. For once, he tries to play it straight. But his line delivery is lazy and, well, Sandler-esque. All in all, it’s a step down from “Punch-Drunk Love,” but a big step up from “The Waterboy” and “Big Daddy.” In other words, this one is actually geared toward grownups.

While it’s hard to accept the guy who played Billy Madison as a former pro football star (although professional golfer was completely believable…), the big game sequence is nonetheless the film’s saving grace, and once again stays true to the original movie.

That’s pretty much the theme here. When “The Longest Yard” copies the original, it succeeds. When it relies on the fourth-grade ineptitude of screenwriter Sheldon Turner, it fails-badly.

The moral of the story? Despite its strengths, this remake didn’t really need to be made. Get some new material, boys. (You too, Chris Rock.)

[email protected]