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A football player-turned-convict organizes a team of inmates to play against a team of prison guards. His dilemma is that the warden asks him to throw the game in return for an early release, but he is also concerned about the inmates' lack of self-esteem. Written by
Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
Disgraced ex-pro football player Burt Reynolds is sent to prison after dumping his lover's car in the drink and assaulting two police officers; once behind bars, the oily warden coerces him into turning the other inmates into football players to compete with the guards in a game. Great story for a funny farce, but "The Longest Yard" isn't all cartoonish fun, it has some dimensions, and director Robert Aldrich is easy on the transitions in tone. The inmates look a bit long-in-the-tooth to be playing an extended, crushing game on the gridiron, but Reynolds' comic double-takes are very amusing, and the supporting cast is full of colorful characters, particularly James Hampton as Caretaker, Michael Conrad as Scarboro and Bernadette Peters as a secretary (whose beehive is a punchline all on its own). There's too much emphasis on what a jerk warden Eddie Albert is, and too many shots of him looking aghast, and Ed Lauter's menacing act as the chief guard is tiresome, but the movie is surprisingly low-keyed and looks convincing. The split-screen visuals once the game gets going are fantastic, showing Aldrich's keen eye in capturing different behavior, although the game itself seems to go on forever--these players would be passed out from sheer exhaustion--and the warden's threats still hang in the air, unresolved. *** from ****
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