In the 70s, I can’t imagine a better example of movie mandom than Burt Reynolds. He seems to have played the same character over and over in those days, but that’s OK, the one character Reynolds played was awesome enough to get away with it. But as fun and self aware as something like Smokey and the Bandit or The Cannonball Run might be, I assume he also wanted to be seen as a serious actor. Which is everything I didn’t like about The Longest Yard.
Burt Reynolds is Paul Crewe, a washed up and disgraced ex-pro footballer. After being kicked out by his sugar mamma, loaded up on booze and drugs, Paul leads the local cops in a carnage filled car chase that lands him in prison. As soon as he arrives, his notoriety as a football star gets the attention of prison Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) and head guard, Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter). As the guards train for their on semi-pro team, the Warden decides they need a warm up game, against the prisoners, trained and lead by Paul.
Reluctant at first, he eventually takes to the idea and starts recruiting prisoners for his team. Banding together the biggest freaks, psychos and unstable weirdos in the place, a team starts to form. A team built entirely on their desire to physically harm the guards under the guise of a game of football. There’s also a racial thing about whether or not he black prisoners will play, which is by far the clunkiest part of a pretty clunky movie.
I think The Longest Yard was trying to say something, and go beyond the standard slops versus snobs formula. The only problem is, the more it tried to say these things, the more it revealed its own narrow mindedness. The racial politics may have been kind of progressive in 1974, but watching it 40 years later, it’s kind of offensive.
The one thing The longest Yard gets completely right though, is its reliance on its star. If you were making a movie with Burt Reynolds in 1974, a lot of your hard work was already done for you. Just point a camera at him, let Burt Reynolds be Burt Reynolds, and you’re well on your way to having an extremely watchable movie on your hands.
It also gives him more room to spread his acting wings than you’d expect from a movie about prisoners playing guards in a game of football. The climactic game, which takes up almost half of the movie’s two hour running time, lets Reynolds go through a range of emotions and character growth. It goes from funny, to uplifting, to tragic, to fist pumpingly triumphant. And Reynolds more than delivers on the lot.
But in the end, not even that signature Burt Reynolds cool was enough to save this move for me. It wasn’t exactly a chore to watch, but I could feel every single minute tick by, waiting for the end credits. The Longest Yard is dated in all the worst possible ways. It never really reaches the levels of campy, goofy, 70s corniness. Instead, it just reminds you of the worst things about that time. The small minded, conservative , wrong headed masculinity. The actual game is kind of entertaining, but like the rest of the movie, it would have only benefited from being cut in half.
The Longest Yard
Directed By – Robert Aldrich
Written By – Tracy Keenan Wynn