So last week I got into a pre-screening of The Longest Yard. I didn’t have high or low expectations. I hadn’t seen the original Burt Reynolds movie, and I still haven’t.
But the basic story is, according to my g.f., identical: a disgraced former NFL quarterback gets tossed in jail for self-destructive driving and the warden of a Texas prison gets him transferred in in hopes of getting the edge with his all-prison-guard team. As a warm-up match, Sandler/Reynold’s character suggests the guards play the prisoners. The evil warden puts Sandler/Reynold’s in charge of coaching the prisoners. Putting the team together is tough, but inspired by a chance to get their revenge on the guards, the prisoners eventually triumph.
The woman I sat next to was high as a kite, and her talkbacks at the screen helped get me through the slower moments of the movie. Of which there are a lot. Sandler, surprisingly, plays the straight man. He’s been funnier in serious movies — Spanglish, Punch Drunk Love — so those of you who are expecting another Happy Gilmore need to adjust your expectations.
The cut of the film, for as close to release as we are, was still pretty drafty. Lots of soundtrack that they won’t possibly use, lots of hard cuts that still need smoothing. So maybe the comedy quotient will go up when they adjust the timing on some things and cut out some lame moments.
The supporting cast was fine. Burt Reynold’s extended cameo often earned applause from the crowd. The comedic burden falls on Chris Rock, who plays Caretaker, the cliched skinny guy who can get anything at all smuggled into the prison. Nelly is excellently believable, save for a turn-the-other-cheek scene that seemed out of character for both his real-life persona and his movie one. I’m all for avoiding violence, but it was one of many moments in this movie that rang very false. As far as the bit players, this movie features the funniest giant since Andre the Giant in Princess Bride.
Perhaps it is a mark of how far Sandler has come that he can let Chris Rock and others be funnier in a movie that stars him. That kind of generosity, I think, ensures that he will manage to parlay his movie-star status into middle age and into ever more serious fare.