NFL quarterback Paul Crewe’s life has been on the skids ever since he was banished from the league for point-shaving. Aside from the "joys" of nasty, oppressive, rich girlfriends and solitary booze binges, he doesn’t have much to live for. So Crewe doesn't much care that after a drunken run-in with police, he winds up in a federal prison.
It just so happens, of course, that Warden Hazen has his own semi-pro football team staffed by the penitentiary's sadistic guards. And those guards don’t have a decent team to practice against. That’s where Crewe comes in. Hazen assures Crewe that if he puts together a practice squad made up of inmates, his three-year sentence will go smoothly.
At first Crewe doesn’t have much to work with, just a bunch of bulked-up sociopaths eager to put a major hit on their tormentors. But wouldn’t you know it, that very same prison just happens to have a former Heisman Trophy winner, Nate Scarborough, who volunteers to coach the ragtag team. He sets about instilling a relative amount of discipline into the players—emphasis on the word relative. In the meantime, all sorts of cheating and dirty tricks between the semi-pros and cons ensue.
The day of the big game arrives, complete with coverage by ESPN. But Hazen is so determined to win he blackmails Crewe with a crime he didn’t commit. (Football is a quasi-religion in Texas, and a winning team owner has that much better chance to be elected governor, a position the warden has designs on.) Crewe is notorious for throwing a game in the past; will he do it again to save his own skin?
The captain of the guards' team, while at first an abusive and dirty competitor, comes to respect his nemesis, Crewe, and refuses to testify falsely against him. He also refuses to shoot him. The inmates learn the value of teamwork. (Though the most common result of them "banding together" is yet another committed crime.) The downward spiral Crewe's life goes into after he throws the NFL game speaks to the damage immoral and unethical decisions can do. He wavers for a bit when push comes to shove (literally in this case), but remains committed to never repeating his mistake.
A praying inmate tells Jesus that if He helps him, “I’ll stop cheating on my wife with black guys.” A comrade, whose mental instability is played for laughs, says, “The blood of the gods is going to flow like the rivers of Babylon.” A Bible is placed on a coffin.
Visual and verbal homosexual gags and jabs permeate the story. Rape. Sodomy. Lust. Anatomy. You name it, there's a dirty joke about it in the script. The cons' team has its own cheerleaders—flamboyant cross-dressers whose on-the-field cheers and off-the-field antics suggestively evoke gay sex. One does an acrobatic flip, exposing his jockstrap and nearly bare backside. They all do a cheer spelling out "d--k" with their bodies.
An inmate is mercilessly teased about having an affair with one of the transvestites; he denies it vehemently even when security camera footage shows them caressing and then ducking inside a room, where we see their silhouettes hugging and groping. An extravagantly effeminate fashion designer at a party calls Crewe a “boy toy” and later says he thinks he loves him—because he's bad. It's intimated that the warden is carrying on a secret, gay, love affair.
On a non-homosexual note, Hazen’s more-than-middle-aged assistant drools over Crewe. (In one scene we see her ogling one of the underwear ads he did in his prime). She offers Crewe videotapes of the guards’ games in exchange for sexual favors, which we witness via security camera footage. Included are scenes of Crewe hanging a cowboy hat on his private parts and him spanking her in her underwear.
One of the warden’s golfing partners tells Crewe, “I think you had sex with my wife before I married her.” Rather than being angry, though, the man is proud of the fact that he has snagged such a “hot a--.”
Several women wear very low-cut blouses and tight T-shirts. The camera stares as a woman wearing a bikini swims and climbs out of a pool. It looks down dresses and tops. (Even a TV news announcer shows cleavage.) It leers at female cheerleaders for the guards' team who wear uniforms so skimpy they'd make even a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader blush. It giggles over men prancing about in equally spare skirts and bra-tops.
A few crushing but fair hits on the football field pale compared to the numerous cheap shots shown here. Included are kicks to the crotch, face and chest. Vicious clothesline tackles are only the beginning. Brass knuckles even make an entrance at the big game. Guards and prisoners are routinely wheeled away on stretchers as the pigskin carnage goes on and on and on.
So that they can target weaknesses, the inmates break into the prison clinic to view guards’ medical records, making a note of previously broken bones. Crewe, fed up with an official who is ignoring blatant fouls, deliberately rifles the ball into the referee’s groin—twice. Crewe resets a man’s broken nose, complete with the sound of crunching bone. A guard, showing how tough he is, smashes his head into a locker. A prisoner repeatedly bounces his own head off a concrete wall.
A scrimmage degenerates into little more than a brawl, with men kicking and punching one another. One is bludgeoned with a helmet. A man is killed when a radio, sabotaged with gasoline, explodes. (We briefly see him engulfed in flames.) During a pick-up basketball game, Crewe receives several vicious elbows to the face and has his head smashed into a metal post. The guards hit Crewe in the face with a rifle butt, kick him in the face, repeatedly knee him in the gut and bludgeon him with a billy club.
A guard sights a rifle on Crewe, and we see the crosshairs focused on his back. During a riot a grenade explodes, shooting rubber pellets in every direction. While driving drunk, Crewe causes a smashup involving multiple police cars.
Drug and Alcohol Content
An already-drunk Crewe guzzles beer while driving and taunts police with an open can. A cellmate tells Crewe, “You need weed, you need crack, you need Prozac, I can get it.” (Crewe shares a bottle of smuggled booze with him.) The warden’s secretary plies Crewe with wine. People drink alcoholic beverages at a party.
A guard takes anabolic steroids. (The prisoners substitute estrogen tablets into the same vial.) Several characters smoke cigarettes, including one who smokes through the facemask of his football helmet.
Other Negative Elements
A guard is hit so hard he soils himself. Several players, the medical attendants and the journalists in the press box wrinkle their noses and recite the line, “I think he s--- himself.”
Chris Rock has built his entire career on playing off stereotypes of blacks as criminals and other lowlifes, attempting to "disarm" the cultural insults. It's not a very successful shtick. Here, he makes use of the n-word several times. Guards also use the term to demean one of the men in their charge.
The original 1974 version of The Longest Yard was a product of its time—an anti-authority screed perfectly in step with our culture’s Watergate and post-Vietnam convulsions. Everyone in a position of authority, from wardens to guards, was de facto corrupt and deserving of scorn. The prisoners, led by a much younger Burt Reynolds, were cheeky underdogs imbued with moral authority simply by fact of their underdoggedness.
We’re again supposed to cheer for the "bad" guys and boo "good" ones. Not a single guard, and certainly not the warden, is worthy of respect in this story. Sure, the captain turns magnanimous at film’s end, but it's not much to pin your hopes on.
Prison movies and football movies have proven over the years to be veritable cliché factories. Put both together and you achieve cliché critical mass. The resulting explosion showers moviegoers with abjectly bad filmmaking—and that’s before you get to the excessive violence, sexual perversity and the torrent of foul language that effectively bury this stinker.