May 24, 2020
Column

Sandler tries, but fails, in ‘The Longest Yard’

In theaters

THE LONGEST YARD, directed by Peter Segal, written by Sheldon Turner, 109 minutes, rated PG-13.

Nothing in the new prison football comedy, “The Longest Yard,” is as interesting as Burt Reynolds’ face.

It’s something of a shock, this face of his, which appears to have been stretched thin in ways that might have leaned toward youth if it hadn’t taken such an obvious dip into the “House of Wax.” Reynolds is a shoo-in for the potential sequel to that film – “House of Botox” – but here, he’s just right. Mirroring parts of the movie, his face is as unnatural as it is compelling. Just try to look away from it.

A remake of the 1974 Reynolds hit of the same name, “The Longest Yard” stars Adam Sandler in the role Reynolds played before him. He’s Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a ruined quarterback for the NFL who once threw a game and who now is incarcerated after leading police on a high-speed chase that ends in wreckage.

Sent to a Texas prison, where the testosterone level is so high women run the risk of becoming baritones after one conjugal visit, Paul is recruited by the sadistic warden (James Cromwell) to form a football team composed of inmates. His job is to train them and then to pit them against the guards in a game aired on national television.

For Paul, the problems that ensue are exactly what you expect. Most of the inmates either refuse to play the game or don’t have the talent to play the game; the guards are a beastly bunch of henchmen who undermine the inmates at every turn; and neither the guards nor the warden plan to lose.

Indeed, it’s on the sly that the warden demands that Paul throw the game or be framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Will he sell out again? Viewing the original film isn’t exactly necessary if you want to know the answer.

Laced with crude racial stereotypes that do the black community no favors, a sloppy streak of contrivance that robs the movie of surprises and a rash of homophobia that’s akin to a minstrel show, “The Longest Yard” makes Sandler’s other football film, “The Waterboy,” look like an oasis in comparison.

For those who remember Reynolds in the original – and the movie’s intended audience might not, considering it’s older than they are – Sandler’s casting will raise its share of eyebrows. Are we really meant to believe this man was a star quarterback? Please. Worse, the actor has none of the easy wit, athleticism or charisma Reynolds possessed in his youth and, to a great degree, still possesses today.

In spite of his recent efforts to break free from type, Sandler remains a blank canvas, broad and empty, the dumpy guy next door gone to seed. In this movie, he’s a straight man to Chris Rock’s Caretaker, whose job is to deliver clever asides, which he does like the good sidekick he is. Rock is so sharp, he lifts the film in the process.

A better movie would have broken ranks, switched it up, and featured Rock in the lead. A recommended movie would have axed Sandler and given an expanded role to Cloris Leachman as Lynette, the warden’s saucy secretary, whose hair is piled as high as her sex drive and whose go-for-broke performance is the best part of the show.

Grade: C

On video and DVD

BEYOND THE SEA, directed by Kevin Spacey, written by Spacey and Lewis Colick, 121 minutes, rated PG-13.

“Beyond the Sea” stars Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin, the former pop star and teen idol doomed to death at age 9 by a doctor certain he wouldn’t live past the age of 15.

Rheumatic fever nearly killed him, but thanks to the help of an enthusiastic stage mother (Brenda Blethyn) who encouraged his talent and made him believe he had the goods to be a star, Darin dug deep and found the pluck to live until age 37, when he died in 1973 after living life to its breaking point.

In “Beyond the Sea,” Darin’s life is lived again – or at least a version of it is. As directed by Spacey from a script he co-wrote with Lewis Colick, “Sea” is mined from Spacey’s years of interest in Darin, the likes of which have a whiff of star worship and fantasy about them.

Spacey is 45 and looks it. In spite of that, he has cast himself as a man whose first hit song, “Splish Splash,” was performed at age 22. I don’t care how good your lighting is or how talented your cinematographer, onscreen, 45 is only 22 if you have a burlap bag over your head.

Aware of this, Spacey contrives a movie-within-a-movie structure, with Darin looking back on his life from the viewpoint of an older man gleaning insight from his inner child, literally portrayed here by William Ulrich. It’s all tricky, kitschy, hokey stuff, and I’d like to tell you it works, but unfortunately, it works only in parts.

With Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, who turned to a life of booze and ciggies because life with her husband, Darin, was at once too little and too much, the movie becomes a showy little soap opera whose best moments come when Spacey plays it straight.

The whole inner-child angle is a drag, clumsy and self-conscious. But when Spacey takes to the stage as Darin and sings, the movie floats.

Spacey has a good voice and charm to spare, but the film never really gets to the root of who Bobby Darin was.

Was he the real thing, or just a performer crafted by a system that craved another Frank Sinatra? Spacey allows Darrin to remain an enigma, which could have worked for a bigger star, but which here does the middling Darin no favors.

In fact, it cheats him of leaving his mark.

Grade: C

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays and are archived at RottenTomatoes.com. He may be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.


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