Baseball is America’s nominal past time, but declining television ratings for the world series and the increased difficulty in selling out the home staidum (unless you’re the Yankees or Red Sox) show that my favorite sport is on an unfortunate decline in popularity. America’s true national sport would easily have to be football as the attention given to both college and professional football borders on being scary. Outside of the film and television adaptations of the novel Friday Night Lights (and perhaps the overly-schmaltzy Remember the Titans), there haven’t been too many great football movies or shows, which is a shame because football is easily the most exciting and engaging sport (though I prefer the tranquility and deliberate pace of baseball). 1974’s The Longest Yard (not to be confused with the 2000’s remake starring Adam Sandler) is not one of those great football movies. While considered a sports comedy classic, I could count on one hand the number of times the movie made me laugh, and it wasn’t until the actual football game at the end that I began to have any reason to pay attention to the film.
The Longest Yard stars Burt Reynold as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former quarterback for the NFL who was kicked out of the league for shaving points off a game. He now spends his days bouncing from one rich mistress to the next in a directionless funk. After stealing his most recent mistress’s car and leading the police on a Smokey and the Bandit style chase, Crewe ends up carted to the Citrus State Prison, at the direct request of its corrupt warden. The warden wishes that Crewe will coach the guards football team which is a semi-professional team that were national runners-up five years in a row. After turning down the warden’s offer (under the threat of violence from the team’s quarterback, the head guard), Crewe eventually changes his mind after a couple days working on the chain gang. Crewe is then tasked with putting together a team of the convicts to play against the guards in a warm-up match so the guards can get real experience in before their first real match. Crewe quickly realizes that this match could be the opportunity these prisoners need to regain their pride and dignity and have one shot to show the guards just what they’re made of.
For the first hour and fifteen minutes of the film, it was painfully torturous to watch. For the vast majority of the film, Crewe is not an especially likeable fellow, and while these convicts are at least honest about being criminals (as compared to the corrupt and violent guards), that doesn’t make any of them except for perhaps Caretaker likeable in the slightest. Honestly, the only character who had any development over the course of the film was Crewe, and it was fairly cliche stuff in its own right. Similarly, for a film that is marketed as a comedy, it is remarkably not funny. It was almost as if the film couldn’t make up its mind as to whether it wanted to be a comedy or a drama, and it failed at being either. The only times in the entire film that I was able to laugh was during the football game, which was the only entertaining part of the film period.
Burt Reynolds was one of the biggest stars and sex symbols of the 1970’s. There’s a photograph of him without any clothes on and strategic objects covering his junk that I wish I could bleach my brain to get rid of. I don’t get it. While he did voice one of my favorite animated characters growing up (Charlie in All Dogs Go to Heaven) and I enjoyed his films Deliverance and Boogie Nights, my enjoyment of those films was not directly related to his work in them. He seems to me to be the archetypal pretty face who gets by more on his looks than any real talent. He seems to have one mode which is glib sarcasm and arrogance and perhaps the most annoying laugh this side of Phyllis Diller. Also, he didn’t have his iconic mustache in this role, and I could just feel his usual mojo just disappearing right out of the film.
The film isn’t completely without positives. I enjoyed the actual football match quite a bit. I respected the writers’ decision to make both teams cheat as much as humanly possible, and the scene where Crewe intentionally throws the football at one guard’s nether regions two plays in a row elicited a nice guffaw. Also, the football action itself was well choreographed. No one would confuse either team for professionals, but they played well and were fun to watch. Unfortunately, the beginning of the film was so snail-like in its entertainment that I couldn’t enjoy the end as much as I should have because of how mentally exhausted I was (not from mental exertion but sheer boredom). If you’re a Burt Reynolds fan or a fan of sports films, I would recommend this one but you’ve probably seen it before. Everyone else can steer clear.
Final Score: C+