The Longest Yard
There's an intriguing - and totally unexpected - quality of what you might call Eastern serenity I find in Adam Sandler's screen persona that's grown over the years he's been in films. It implies somehow that there's more to his character - more strength, more assurance - than he's revealing at the moment. I first noticed it in "Punch Drunk Love," where his guilelessness is somehow built not on insecurity but on a serene sense of self. I noticed it more in "Fifty First Dates," where he is the unflappable suitor of Drew Barrymore. It didn't work in "Spanglish," because it was irrational for his character not to respond in kind to the hectoring he got from Tea Leoni as his wife.
But it works once again in his newest film, "The Longest Yard," the remake of Robert Aldrich's 1974 film that starred Burt Reynolds. Though the new writers have updated some elements, the story is the same: Sandler plays a former NFL quarterback named Paul 'Wrecking' Crewe - MVP of the Super Bowl - who was disgraced by shaving points in a game. Now a willful alcoholic, he takes his girlfriend's new car out for a joyride, taunting the police until he's stopped and sentenced to three years in a Texas state prison.
Once there the sadistic warden (James Cromwell), trying for statewide recognition as a step toward a campaign for governor, tries to enlist Crewe in his semiprofessional guards' football team. Crewe refuses but is talked into starting a prisoners' team. Can you see the end coming? Of course; you saw "M*A*S*H," didn't you? but you didn't hear it from me. The point is that update writer Sheldon Turner and director Peter Segal haven't really harmed the story or potchkyed it up with irrelevances or anachronistic touches. I think they recognized that Sandler's mysterious quality of untouchability would help them through the clichéd moments - and it does.
Sandler projects a resilience in his films; here, when he suffers the obligatory beating from a sadistic guard, we see that he is somehow untouched. In other film stars this would be either an acting mistake or would more likely show a lack of talent. But Sandler's equanimity works in his favor, and pays off at the film's climax.
There really isn't much to say in "The Longest Yard"'s favor. It's minor, it's over quickly, and it has nothing resembling artistic resonance. But it isn't a bad way to pass 109 otherwise empty minutes.