There is, simply, something irrepressibly charming about Burt Reynolds. The man who exudes, and for a generation personifies, sex has a subtle, wild charm that enraptures the spirit of women and the envy of men with an oft-cast glance. Even when he's a rascally, irredeemable, drunken scoundrel like his character in "The Longest Yard" he is able to convince the audience to root for him. Of course it helps that his antagonists have even less social value than he does. And that, ultimately, is the point of the entire movie.
Burt Reynolds plays Paul Crewe, a washed-up quarterback who spends his days boozing and watching television with his mistress. He's unstable and violent, having nothing in life to lose. He lost everything in a points-shaving scandal while playing professional football and did it without remorse. After beating his girlfriend, Crewe goes on a wild chase with police, culminating with a barroom brawl with the authorities.
Sentenced to a Florida prison, Crewe is given an offer to help train the prison semi-pro football team in exchange for favors from the warden and the guards. Being a nihilist, Crewe turns them down. He's abused by the guards, ostracized by his fellow prisoners, and generally treated with no respect. But Crewe comes to an understanding of his situation and takes the chance to form a football team of prisoners to serve as a tune-up for the team of guards and, secretly, a one-and-only chance for the inmates to hit a guard without repercussion.
"The Longest Yard" is an interesting beast because, by and large, it suffers no "good guys." While Reynold's Crewe is charming, if not affable, but the truth remains that he is an abusive nihilist. As much as I want to like Jim Hampton's Caretaker, I know that he's been imprisoned for a reason. The guards, supposed to serve as a bastion of order, perpetrate acts under the guise of their duty that are as bad as anything done by the prisoners in the real world. We end up rooting for the team of prisoners simply because they adhere to a code of ethics. The dynamic is rather akin to that of Red and Andy to Captain Hadly and Warden Norton in "The Shawshank Redemption."
Themes and characters aside, is "The Longest Yard" any good? Yes… with a caveat. The movie is steeped in 70s style and it takes its time to set up the narrative. My generation has become accustom to comedy being a string of one-liners with a loosely coherent plot to hang its hat on. That, or a sickly-sweet romantic comedy that tries, but rarely succeeds, to be funny. It almost seems like "The Longest Yard" was a story before it was a comedy. The story is solid and the major players are well defined.
The problem comes from a lot of the minor characters. The rest of the team is a loosely defined mob who serves as setup for a single joke and then forgotten. The film plays up monsters like Richard Kiel, Jaws of James Bond fame, but only uses them for a quick, almost throwaway gag. There's a karate expert on the field who is supposed to be the most lethal man alive… yet we never get the chance to see him do his stuff. Fortunately the anchors of the team of guards are strong, villainous characters including one of the meanest men to ever play football, Ray Nitschke. As a long-time Packer fan I've got a special place in my heart for Nitschke, and he does an absolutely incredible job playing a dirty football player in this film. Additionally Ed Lauter's Captain Knauer is sadistically, deviously delicious.
Though the comedy is good, this is ultimately a movie about football and it will live or die by those merits. Fortunately the action on the field really does look like semi-pro football from the 70s. It's a little sloppy but the play looks convincing. The problem with it lies in the fact that they don't tell the story of the game, rather they tell snippets of the story, and as a person who finds the ebbs and flows of the game important, it's maddening. You are forced, as a viewer, to fill in the time gaps with your imagination and while most people won't have any problem doing that, it did bother me.
Overall I found "The Longest Yard" an enjoyable movie. It's got some very different characters and elicits a true sense of pathos when they are hurt on the field of play or when a player loses his life. Several scenes had me on the edge of my seat hoping what I was expecting, wouldn't because I had developed feelings for Paul, Caretaker, and the lot. That's the highest praise anyone can give a movie that's, "just a comedy." The forthcoming remake will probably capture the humor of the original, but to truly succeed it needs to find the original's heart.
Overall I've got few qualms with the transfer. It's grainy, but that's more a product of the film stock than the transfer. I didn't see any edge enhancement and the film artifacts like scratches and hairs were kept to an absolute minimum. The biggest problem I had was that the transfer appears to be zoomed. It's immediately noticeable when in the Captain's office for the first time and we're shown something on the wall to read but can't because the letters at the bottom are cut off. Furthermore at the Captain's first introduction his nameplate is obviously supposed to be in frame, the way it is composed, but all we can see is "Captain" and not his name. It is made visible in a later shot, however. There are additional scenes where half a player is cut out on the right side of the screen. It's not a problem most of the time, but the transfer has been cropped. It is presented in Anamorphic scope with 16:9 enhancement.
Presented in its original Mono, the Dolby Digital track sounds just fine. No hiss, ho pops, and the range is as great as you would expect from a movie of this era. Good.
The best extra, for those of you that like to go to the theater, is a 5-dollar off coupon to the upcoming remake of "The Longest Yard." Hell, I'm going to a matinee so I'll pay 75 cents to see it its first weekend out. Considering you can get this title for less than 10 bucks, I'd say it's worth it right there.
As for the disc itself, there is a nice commentary included by Burt Reynolds of "Boogie Nights" fame and writer/producer Albert Ruddy, who created a little movie called… um… "The Godfather." You might have heard of it. Ruddy confirms this wasn't supposed to be a comedy, rather it was Reynold's charm and the cast's improvisation that created the movie we end up with on screen. The two duplicate a lot of the information presented in the documentaries, but it's nice hearing them connect the genesis of certain scenes with their roots. The two are very talkative about the nature of creating the film and its segments.
"Doing Time On The Longest Yard" is a retrospective documentary that runs a little over 11 minutes and details where the character of Paul Crewe came from, how the movie became a comedy and how Burt Reynolds became involved. A bunch of sportswriters get the chance to reflect on the movie as well. A nice, succinct reflection.
"Unleashing the Mean Machine" is a continuation of the first documentary with sports writers and professional football players on the nature of the sport played during the film. It segues nicely into the upcoming remake.
The original, 4-minute trailer is included, which is a nice little treat. But if you thought the trailers today gave everything away… wow, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
There's also a look at the new remake of "The Longest Yard" starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. It runs just over 3 minutes and looks pretty good. I'm looking forward to the remake.
The disc opens up with some promos for "Longest Yard" (2005), "Coach Carter" which looks wonderful, the second season of "MacGuyver," and the Holy Schnikes edition of "Tommy Boy." That's gonna leave a mark.
There's a reason "The Longest Yard" is considered one of the best sports movies of all time. It doesn't resort to many clichés and has a wonderful story connected with it. Burt Reynolds is stellar, the jokes are good, but there is a real sense of emotional weight to the narrative. It's rare that I look forward to going back to revisit a movie soon after watching it the first time, but that has certainly happened here. Absolutely recommended.