Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Offsides on the inside: "The Longest Yard"

Here's a classic case of a so-called great movie being a bit disappointing.

It's probably not fair to the movie itself since times have changed in the last 30 decades, but "The Longest Yard" left me wanting. Part of it was the cutesy filmmaking from that era. Part of it was because it really wasn't as funny as I had been led to believe. Part of it was because I was told Burt Reynolds would be driving a black Trans Am during the movie.

Since I had never seen "Yard," I felt obligated to TiVo it from one of the HBO channels -- I don't know ... HBO, HBO2, HBO Ribbed (For Her Pleasure). And hey, I'm better for having seen it, if only to say I've seen the two biggest movies in which Reynolds doesn't have a mustache.

Reynolds plays Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a former pro football player who goes to jail after wrecking -- no pun intended -- his woman's car in a drunken binge. In jail, warden Eddie Albert first asks Burt to coach the prison's semipro football team, made up of guards, then orders him to assemble a team of prisoners to play the guards in a tuneup game. That game ultimately gives the prisoners something to prove. Oh, and provides the chance to legally bash heads with the guards.

This plot allows the introduction of all sorts of fun characters, including Movievangelist favorite Richard Kiel! (See photo at right.) Really, after the first half hour of set-up, we get only two major developments: putting together the inmate team, aka Mean Machine, and the actual game against the guards, which goes on a looooonnnnggg time. Seriously, when it started, I thought it was like a "Rocky" sequel, when there were actually two fights -- one early and one at the end. Seemed like this was the first fight, not the whole enchilada.

But no, there's just the one game, and I guess it's commendable that "Yard" devotes so much time to on-field action, which does look real enough. It's well known that a lot of these guys, Reynolds included, played football for real, and that shows in a very '70s way, i.e. small pads and slight frames. Maybe not the Galloping Ghost, but also not exactly Michael Vick.

I guess my main problem -- and this will sound weird in a few ways -- was that the movie was too subtle. I mean, this is something of an outrageous concept, and yet everyone is pretty low-key about it. Not sure why I'm complaining, since Reynolds made a career out of being really smug. (Perhaps you've seen "Cannonball Run II." You have? Really? Sorry.) And other football movies, i.e. "Any Given Sunday," definitely celebrate excess. But "Yard" just seemed like it could have had a little more oomph.

My other issue was Reynolds' inner turmoil during the big game. No one will ever confuse Burt of being deep; even his lauded turn in "Boogie Nights" showed conflict but not a lot of genuine angst. Still, for a character with some past demons, I didn't see much range from kooky to corrupt. Maybe a minor quibble, but there you go.

Even with those complaints, I thought "The Longest Yard" was all right. The subtlety I mention above works well when it comes to some one-liners -- by Reynolds, the dad from "Teen Wolf" and others. Albert is a little hard to take seriously but is a decent foil for Reynolds. And with all the build-up, you're genuinely interested in how the game will turn out. Finally, unlike Burt's other non-mustache movie, nobody is told to squeal like a pig. I think we'll all agree that's a good thing.


At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, it's a bit overrated and Burt's "ain't I cute" acting doesn't seem nearly as fresh as it did 30 years ago, but props for using some real NFL players as guards, as well as 1970s bad guy and Mike Dunleavy lookalike Ed Lauter.


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