Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Adam Sandler……….Paul ‘Wrecking’ Crewe
Burt Reynolds……….Coach Nate Scarborough
James Cromwell……….Warden Hazen
Walter Williamson……….Errol Dandridge
Michael Irvin……….Deacon Moss
Edward Bunker……….Skitchy Rivers
David Patrick Kelly……….Unger
Terry Crews……….Cheeseburger Eddy
Joey Diaz……….Big Tony
If there’s one thing that separates Adam Sandler from the rest of the SNL alumni is that beyond his success lies a man who has never settled for just ‘being funny’ in one particular way. He has always strove to improve on himself and his work; he has shown dramatic acting chops in last year’s Spanglish and has been the driving force behind some of the funniest (and most profitable) comedies of the last decade. He has quite the diverse amount of comedies under his belt, from ’80s inspired The Wedding Singer to sports comedies Happy Gilmore (golf) and The Waterboy (football).
And he isn’t a stranger to the world of the remake with 2002’s Mr. Deeds, a remake of the 1936 movie Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. And with one football-themed movie, and one remake already under his belt, comes a remake of a football movie. But this isn’t Necessary Roughness he’s taking on; Sandler, in his quest to improve upon his previous work, has taken on one of the greatest football movies ever made: The Longest Yard.
And he’s reprising one of the most noteworthy performances and characters of Burt Reynolds’ career in Paul ‘Wrecking’ Crewe, a washed up former NFL quarterback who manages to land himself in prison. From there, he’s pegged to lead the inmates in a game against the prison guards in a game with lots of consequences.
Joining him in this remake is long-time friend Chris Rock as Caretaker, Crewe’s right hand man and faithful assistant. And much like Michael Caine did in 2000’s Get Carter after headlining the 1971 version of the same movie, Reynolds steps into a supporting role as Coach Nate Scarborough after previously starring as Paul Crewe.
The thing that stands out most about this remake is the chemistry between its’ two leading men. Sandler and Rock are friends off screen, and unlike a lot of friends who don’t mesh well on screen Sandler and Rock have an instant chemistry that their characters do. Sandler is more of the straight man and Rock the one with the funny one-liners, but it works in a real under-powering way. It’s also a much different chemistry than Reynolds and Jim Hampton (the original Caretaker) had in the first one as well. Rock can a say a lot more controversial things than Hampton could (both in terms of race relations since 1974 as well as the simple fact that Rock’s riffing on the same subject forms the bulk of his stand-up act and is much more natural, and acceptable) and it makes for some of the movie’s funnier moments.
Sandler’s dedication to becoming Paul Crewe really shows throughout the movie. While he chaffs when he uses some of the same dialogue scripted for Reynolds in 1974, when he’s given a chance to adapt the story to his brand of acting and comedy he really does it well.
Physically he looks much more powerful than in any other movie he’s been in; he looks the part of a former NFL football player. He also moves under center and on the field like someone who has been there before; his work with former NFL quarterback Sean Salisbury shows. Under center he does the little things, like check down receivers and scanning the defensive backfield, to a high level. You can accept Sandler as Paul Crewe, former NFL MVP, because he does the things beyond just being funny in order to succeed.
And that’s what this movie is: a comedy. The cast isn’t out there attempting to one-up each other or try and win an Oscar. The thing that makes this movie work is that the whole cast jumps into their roles with some gusto. Newcomers like R&B artist Nelly, former NFL wideout Michael Irvin and pro wrestling stars Steve Austin and Bill Goldberg all are given just enough to make their characters work without their relative lack of acting experience being exposed.
Peter Segal deserves a lot of credit for not trying to take more out of his actors than they can provide. Someone like Bob Sapp, a kickboxing star, plays Switowski in much the same way Richard Kiel played Samson. Sapp is given just enough to do that he isn’t out of his league; most of the cast is given one or two lines at a time. Segal doesn’t expose anyone to standing out for not being able to do the job; his movie is a crafting of athletic and acting talent to its’ utmost.
In a movie about a team sport, Segal does an admirable job of keeping the weaknesses of his non-acting cast from being exposed. Guys like former Denver Bronco linebacker Bill Romanowski, ex-WWE champion Kevin Nash and NFL washout Brian Bosworth have memorable characters in the limited screen time they get.
The 1974 version is a much darker film that is more about defying authority than this one is. The guards and convicts are much more pawns of the warden than they are two factions who disagree with the condition they find themselves in. While this movie is played more for the comedic aspect than the original, the spirit and the fun still remain. It’s a fun movie with a cast that is well-suited for it, and it shows.