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Super Bowl Report

2. 'The Longest Yard'

February 01, 2009|Geoff Boucher

Prison films and sports movies define guy cinema, and "The Longest Yard," directed by Robert Aldrich, is the sinewy synthesis of the two, like "Cool Hand Luke" but with Joe Namath on the chain gang. This movie found the perfect star in Burt Reynolds under center (in comparison, Adam Sandler in the 2005 remake seemed like, well, a waterboy). Reynolds was at the height of his good ol' boy cinema, following up on "Deliverance" and "White Lighting" and still in possession of that virile menace that he would later trade for Southern slapstick.

Reynolds plays Paul Crewe, a pro quarterback who is bounced from the league in a gambling scandal and then arrested for ditching his girlfriend's coupe in a Florida waterway. He becomes a pawn in the gridiron obsession of an evil warden (Eddie Albert), so he pulls together a motley convict confederacy (the recruitment scenes recall "The Magnificent Seven" -- this really is a guy movie). It's fierce and funny and the great moment of truth isn't on the field, it's when an inmate tells Crewe why the QB is an outcast among killers and rapists. "You could have robbed banks, sold dope or stole your grandmother's pension checks, and none of us would have minded. But shaving points off of a football game, man, that's un-American."

Reynolds slings the ball with ease, and why not -- if things had gone differently, Reynolds would have played on Sundays. After a storied high-school career (he rushed for 310 yards in one game) and All-American honors at Florida State, he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts but was badly injured in a car wreck. The future actor first mulled a career as a parole officer. There's just something about football and prisons.

-- Geoff Boucher

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