Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Longest Yard and the Triumph of Consumer Culture

This Sunday, I'm going to see Adam Sandler's remake of the Burt Reynolds classic The Longest Yard with a good friend. He's a HUGE Burt Reynolds fan and is very excited about the film. Those of you chuckling over the idea of anyone being a "HUGE" Burt Reynolds fan have probably never seen the original movie. While Reynolds is an arrogant, sexist ass from all accounts, he was also the epitome of fuck-The-Man coolness back in the day, and anyone who watches the original film can see why that was. The man was a 70's badass.

I'm sort of looking forward to the movie, myself. I'm a Sandler fan, though not a rabid one. My brother got me watching and loving Billy Madison when I was in High School, and I still think that with that film and Happy Gilmore, Sandler achieved a sort of fly by the seat of your pants non-sequitor comic genius. Their juvenile movies, but they are gloriously, absurdly juvenile.

Lately, I've been more impressed with Sandler's dramatic efforts than with his comedic ones. I think Punch Drunk Love is an undervalued gem, and I think his work in Spanglish is human, moving, and while not ground-breaking, very solid work. The idea of him playing it mostly straight in The Longest Yard (which, by all accounts, he does) isn't an inherently terrible one.

But without having seen more than a television commercial's worth of images, it's immediately apparent how different this film is. The original was a typical 70's anti-authority film with the sort of iconic anti-hero that I seem to gravitate toward (see my review of Cool Hand Luke). The remake is a feature length commercial.

Everything you need to know about the shift in tone for this film can be encapsulated by the photo published in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly alongside the film's review (which I have not read, having made it a policy not to read comments on films I haven't seen). in the photo, Sandler and his fellow prison inmates are wearing their football uniforms. In the original, those uniforms were ragged jerseys with numbers ironed onto them. In the remake, they are NFL quality uniforms, prominently emblazoned with reebok decals on the front and sleeves.

How do a bunch of prison inmates get their own sponsorship deal? Why, as pictured in the commercial I've seen, is ESPN2 covering the prisoner/guard game?

Perhaps there's some plot point in the film that makes these little details fit with the larger story. Somehow I doubt it. And while I'll probably laugh a few times this Sunday, I can pretty much guarantee that the remake will never grace my dvd shelf. I can be entertained for a night by it, but I can't respect it in the morning. My heroes are people like Lucas Jackson, the original Paul "wrecking" Crewe, McMurphy, Seth Bullock, men of character and conscience and more than a little disdain for a corrupt establishment.

Sandler's Crewe may be funny, but he'll never be Iconic. He can't be. And neither can the movie. In a film where the prisoners are playing for a major corporation, and where we're asked to accept that Murderers, rapists, and drug dealers are somehow morally superior to someone who throws a big business venture like a pro football game, there are no icons. No heroes. Just cardboard cutout characters hawking product.

In the original film, Paul Crewe was the man. In the remake, he's The Man.