Just as bodily fluid jokes are a regrettable hallmark of contemporary kids’ films, casual homophobic wisecracks are an unfortunate staple of juvenile SNL-style comedies, a sub-genre aimed at frat boys who think nothing’s funnier (and, secretly, more terrifying) than the thought of sodomy. Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard, an update of 1974’s Burt Reynolds-headlined classic about a motley group of incarcerated criminals who band together to beat the prison guards at football, is the latest member of this cinematic category, overflowing with so many gay-centric gags that it’s a wonder the filmmakers didn’t utilize the film’s title for a penis-related pun.
Robert Aldrich’s pigskin original was, like so much of the director’s work, a tribute to male codes of honor, ignoring the morality of its convict protagonists in favor of examining the ways in which men learn the importance of selflessness, sacrifice, honor, and anti-establishment rebellion against the powers-that-be. Yet from Tracy Morgan’s flamboyant head cheerleader and references to Bill Goldberg’s enormous “pet iguana” package, to Kevin Nash’s guard turning womanly (meaning he rubs his nipples, cries, and likes to dance) after his steroids are replaced with estrogen pills, Peter Segal’s remake—less funny and more strident than Sandler’s previous sports flicks The Waterboy and Happy Gilmore—celebrates macho studliness by ridiculing any hint of femininity in its gridiron badasses.
Segal does tap into Aldrich’s conception of violence as an initiation rite into manhood during a basketball game in which Sandler’s disgraced NFL QB Paul “Wrecking” Crewe—locked up for breaking innumerable laws in his bitch girlfriend’s (Courtney Cox) Bentley—willingly takes a physical beating from Michael Irvin’s thug as a means of proving his tough-guy credentials. However, the film primarily replaces its predecessor’s gritty swagger with WWE and MTV-esque posturing epitomized by lots of slow motion, split-screen, and characters portrayed by rappers (most notably Nelly) and ex-pro wrestlers (including Goldberg, Nash, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin).
Assuming Reynolds’s role, Sandler mocks the ‘70s heartthrob’s hairy-chested hunkiness (via nods to his famous nude photo spread) while vainly trying to look nasty by donning a skullcap, but Reynolds’s participation as coach Nate Scarborough merely highlights the comedian’s soft, pudgy blandness. Stuck playing Crewe’s smart-mouthed sidekick Caretaker, Chris Rock doggedly attempts to bring race, an obvious thematic undercurrent, to the forefront. In the end, though, neither he, the cartoonish team members, nor James Cromwell (as the sadistic warden) are capable of recovering this fumbled fiasco—which instantly signals the bad guys’ defeat by casting a ‘roid rage-afflicted former pro (Bill Romanowski) and an infamous NFL flop (Brian Bosworth) as the stars of the villainous guards’ squad—from its own predictable, out-of-bounds brainlessness.