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Tedious 'Yard'

Messrs. Sandler and Reynolds have produced a film lacking in levity and virtue

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Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a painfully sunny June in my soul; whenever I begin to involuntarily pause before classic DVD warehouses and bring up the rear in every line to see Citizen Kane, and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically tearing people's "I Heart Godard" T-shirts off their wretched bodies, I account it high time to get to an Adam Sandler movie.

Thusly was it that I betook myself and my colleague, Herr Professor Doktor Samuel Slote, to a viewing of The Longest Yard, a filmic entertainment designed for comedic alleviation of the day's unpleasantness. To cut rapidly to the denouement wherein Mr. Dr. Slote gave his "yea" or "nay" to this film, let it be said that his official judgment in regards to this cinematic diversion was the following faint pronouncement: "I found it thoroughly tolerable."

For my part, and conversely, I thought it well below the high standards that Mr. Sandler had set in his earlier cinematic endeavors, and would rate it a nearly complete failure whose main virtue was in providing for me the compelling desire to exit the theater in hope that I might have some greater entertainment in merely staring at the cracked and ancient concrete paving stones on the walkways thereabout.

The film's narrative is derived in its entirety from an earlier production, also, and not coincidentally, entitled The Longest Yard, but starring, instead of the slack-jawed A. Sandler, a sparkle-eyed Burt Reynolds, back in that halcyon age when his visage had not yet been ravaged by the vagaries of time and the incompetences of a clearly deranged and palsied aesthetic surgeon. In this more modern version, Mr. Reynolds plays a small part in homage to his prior exertions.

Both films cinematically relate the saga of one Paul Crewe, a disgraced gridironist who, after shamefully acting on the behalf of underworld figures to fix in advance the final outcome of a professional sporting event, is sent for his sins to a center of penal interment. Therein, Mr. Crewe is asked to mount, in a game of foot-ball, a team of offenders to compete against a squadron of the ungentle correctional officers who treat the prison as their autocratic demesne. Thusly do the inmates, in hopes of sporting revenge against their pale-skinned tormenters, form amongst themselves a team both "rag tag," and, indeed, "scrappy."

Such is the story. Little more is there to it, save an assortment of ostensively comedic moments aimed at producing levity out of such topics as racial intolerance, the hatred and ridicule of homosexual men, and violations of the civil rights of those unfortunate enough to have been detained for the very crimes that their government then freely commits upon them.

In better hands than those of helmsman Peter Segal (best remembered for his films Anger Management and Tommy Boy, which are, in themselves, perhaps best forgotten), this premise could provide for not only levity but also commentary upon and concerning the social environs of the present age, haunted as it is by the spectre of a penal system grown to excess and threatening to encompass all aspects, endeavors and institutions of the modern moral economy. Such was the thrust, however lightened by humour, of the original film, directed by the more able Robert Aldrich (whose Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Dirty Dozen have acquired the air of cinematic classics). In this latest version, however, Mr. Segal manages only a few feeble thrusts at the current presidential administration by having, as his villain, an unscrupulous prison warder who believes that the path to the governorship of the cursed state of Texas is best attained by presenting himself as the proprietor of a sporting franchise.

The part is played, far too well, by James Cromwell, who acts as though under the mistaken belief that he is appearing not in a disposable and irrelevant piece of sub-popular pabulum, but rather in a filmic tale worthy of understated and yet intense thespian effort.

Mr. Sandler, for his part, is under no such delusions, though he does refrain, largely and in the greater degree, from the use of absurdly high-pitched voices and shrill giggles which have, on occasion, acted for him in lieu of the thespian arts.

What few bits of actual levity occur in the film (and by my count, not a single laugh is evoked until a full 10 minutes has elapsed, and then the wait until the next successful jape is perhaps 20 more) are largely the work of renowned comedian and satirist Chris Rock, who plays the role of "caretaker," a wily worker in the ways of the underworld who assists in acquiring, often illegitimately, the goods and services needed for the construction of a successful football franchise within the mournful halls of penitentiary.

Other performers present largely one-dimensional characterizations, as dictated by the script, such that there is a man whose swiftness of foot is explicitly linked to his African-American heritage (Walter Williamson, who acquits himself well in the role); the evil guardsman whose brutality melts, in the end, to a kind of respect (William Fichtner, a fine character actor sadly misused in this value-free outing); the gentle giant whose overwhelming muscular potency is matched only by his child-like demeanor (the previously, and one suspects subsequently, unknown Bob Sapp); and other such denizens of the Hollywood standard character machine.

In sum, one could hardly recommend that a member of the public subject either him or herself to this tedious and ill-conceived venture. Rather, I would abjure you to take up some socially worthwhile activity until such time as our theaters are brightened by the arrival of such anticipated productions as The Mule That Ate Freedom and Mr. Superhero's Enormous Endowment. Until then, rest well, fair fan of cinema!

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