Sports and sponsorships go together better than Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
AutoTrader.com dumps millions into a deal with ABC for Monday Night Football rights. Olympic highlights are now known as "Chevy Moments." The currency flooding the pro sports market is getting out of hand. Independent filmmakers could make 71 different Blair Witch projects for the amount of money Anheuser-Busch spent on one 30-second Super Bowl commercial.
So why am I surprised to find that the product placement cluttering professional sports also taints The Longest Yard, an otherwise faithful remake of the 1974 football-in-prison classic? We laugh the first time a convict peddles the McDonald's cheeseburgers he's smuggling in his pants. Fifteen burger jokes later, the dude is screaming, "It ain't easy being cheesy," and a clever idea has been charbroiled. Good advertising for the golden arches, but not exactly entertaining for the audience.
Yard should occupy those who skipped the original, which cast Burt Reynolds as Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a past-his-prime football star who ends up in jail where he's forced to field a team of convicts to play the facility's guards. Thirty-one years later, director Peter Segal and leading man Adam Sandler deliver a scene-for-scene duplication that loses creativity points as it trades bone-on-bone violence from the original for boom-box beats and bling. Reynolds even returns, though this time he's the team's elder statesman, which is sad instead of inspiring.
Sandler isn't the first, second, third, or fourth actor you think of when casting a role once owned by Reynolds, but he's not such an odd choice. The bankable comedian favors sports films (having made two of them himself) and found financial success when he applied his brand of humor to another loose remake, Mr. Deeds. As Crewe, Sandler actually manages this aloof, better-than-you attitude that serves his role as the semi-normal ringmaster in a three-ring circus of stereotypes.
Like the original, Yard targets people's physical attributes in the name of humor. Characters are ridiculed for being too fat, too black, too deranged, and - in Reynolds' case - too old. Co-star Chris Rock pops off a steady stream of jokes, doing his thing and doing it well as he tests the limits of a PG-13 rating. Unfortunately, Rock can't juice every scripted bit, so other actors mumble terrible lines like, "He's so fast, he makes fast people look not fast."
Yard is Segal's third-straight Sandler vehicle after Anger Management and 50 First Dates, and the comedic filmmaker continues to think big picture as he ignores details. Those familiar with the story know that a major character dies before the big game, but I don't remember him being buried the same afternoon! A good director would be concerned, but Segal's too busy furthering the axiom that every actor appears tougher in slow motion, accompanied by a driving rap-metal track.
When not placing products, Yard shuffles cameos from the wide world of sport and beyond. Rapper Nelly impresses as a nimble running back, while former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin reclaims his glory days on Crewe's squad. ESPN commentators and anchors get almost as much screen time as legitimate SAG members Rob Schneider and Cloris Leachman.
As our summer of experimental remakes continues, I'm still trying to figure out which approach works best. The recent failure House of Wax had nothing to do with the horror classic that inspired it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this modern Yard suffers because it's too much like the movie it aims to remake. There has to be some middle ground between source material and update, so the remake can feel both fresh and familiar. Let's hope one of the many pending releases finds that proper balance.
A mountain of extras can be found on the film's DVD, including deleted scenes, how-we-did-it vignettes, outtakes, and several making-of short films.
The Lonest Yard: It's good to the last drop!