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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
May 29, 2005

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.


Madagascar, Longest Yard, and Sony

What a weekend at the box office. Not only did the Star Wars sequel hold onto the lead by earning $70 million, but also two new films opened above $50 million.

Were we just waiting for Memorial Day to splurge at the box office? Apparently so.

And I was a proud part of that big box office day, since I took my family to see both of the big openers.

And you know what? They were worth seeing. At least the once.

Madagascar is funny in a silly kind of way. It used a Bugs-Bunny level of reality -- that is, the animals in the Manhattan Zoo (which, as far as I know, does not exist) were impossibly human-like, but they still had some animal traits.

Most important was the key plot point that Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) really, really liked raw meat. As long as the zookeepers kept him fed, he could be friends with the other animals. But in the wild, when they are stranded on the vast island of Madagascar with no keepers to feed him, he discovers that his friends are all conveniently made of meat. So he must learn to control his natural impulses and behave in an unnatural way to get along with others.

This is a valuable message, though I'm betting that the filmmakers had no clue how politically incorrect it was. What, are they really telling people that even if they have powerful, almost irresistible desires, they should learn to control them for the good of others? Hmmm. Sounds almost Old Testament, doesn't it?

The story line is silly and the ending is perfunctory, but the humor is inspired. The film is stolen by the penguins (who were originally invented in order to do an all-penguin remake of A Hard Day's Night) with hilarious cameos by a couple of chimps.

The Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard treads on dangerous ground. Many regard the 1974 Burt Reynolds original as one of the greatest sports films of all time -- and I'm one of them.

But Sandler's remake of the Gary Cooper film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (as Mr. Deeds in 2002) was quite good. It wasn't exactly like the original: It was funnier, goofier, a little less real. It was Sandlerized, but that can be a very good thing. After all, it didn't erase the original.

So I had high hopes -- and some dread -- about going to see the Sandlerized Longest Yard.

Both feelings were completely justified.

On the good side, Sandler actually made me believe he might actually be a Flutie-esque pro quarterback. OK, well, I didn't believe it, but I bought it long enough to watch the movie. He plays his own character straight -- no goofy faces, no funny voices. Just a guy who gets ticked off, makes some horrible mistakes, and then resigns himself to suffering for them.

Burt Reynolds is used, not just in a tribute cameo, but in an important role as the old football player who serves as coach. He does a good job. His facelift is beginning to sag enough that he looks human again, and the man still has his charm.

Even though they funnied it up, the movie keeps the core brutality of the prison system that makes us care about what happens in the game. So the story works.

Except.

I think it's cool that Sandler is a loyal guy who keeps putting the same friends in all his films. I forgave him for using Rob Schneider, for instance, as a native Hawaiian in 50 First Dates, which would be like casting me in the title role of Oliver! But it was a film-wrecking decision to put Schneider in the crowd in the final football game of The Longest Yard.

We're supposed to care about the outcome of the game, but suddenly we're getting meaningless crudities that only distract from what is supposed to be a compelling story. Believability is thrown out the window.

Ditto with the offensively stupid bit with Cloris Leachman as the warden's secretary. Leachman is still a wonderful actress, but she plays the role so broadly that it simply isn't funny. She's in a Three Stooges movie, like Rob Schneider, while Sandler and most of the rest of the cast are in a completely different kind of comic drama.

And when they showed a video of her "romantic" escapade with Sandler, it was just sad. Not at all the effect I think they were trying for.

Still, flaws and all, Longest Yard was worth the price of admission. I just wish that every Adam Sandler movie didn't have to have things you have to forgive or overlook in order to enjoy the movie.

I wish that he would gain the confidence in himself as an actor to realize that he doesn't always have to go for the cheap laugh in order to be entertaining. In this film, he moved all the cheap laughs onto the shoulders of other performers -- but they didn't belong in the movie at all.

I've saved the best thing for last: Chris Rock. Rock is our best living comedian, but as an actor he has always been limited. He gets this wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look, the way Tom Arnold always does, that speaks of stage fright barely under control. In Rock's stand-up, this is not a problem -- but in his movies, it has made his characters seem artificial at moments when they needed to be real.

In Longest Yard, either Peter Segal is such a masterful director that he was able to shoot around the problem (the way James Cameron did with Tom Arnold in True Lies), or Rock has cured the problem. Because his character was charming, funny, and, above all, real.

I hope this means that Rock has finally crossed the threshold into acting, the way Sandler has. But even if it was just this once, it's worth seeing his memorable performance.

Meanwhile, any movie that contains the storyline of the Chris Rock character does not need and should not be polluted by cheap gimmicks like Rob Schneider's and Cloris Leachman's characters. Decide what movie you're making, guys, and leave out all the other movies you could have made, instead of trying to fit them all into the same two hours.

*

I am officially giving up on Sony computer products.

I've tried Sony Vaio laptops; we had a Sony Vaio desktop for a while. But every Sony computer I've ever bought has been crashy and, ultimately, impossible to work with. Most of them I end up returning within days as being completely unusable.

The latest Sony I bought was their tiny new 20-gig MP3 player. It looked great in the store.

But when I got it home, charged it, and started trying to transfer songs onto it, the whole process fell apart.

You had to use Sony's second-rate, brain-dead music software in order to transfer files. There is simply no excuse for this even if the software works. Just let us copy our files directly to the MP3 player, and then have good enough on-board software to sort it all out.

Instead, we have to choose the songs album by album or song by song, and then wait endlessly while the software does its gyrations.

That's bad enough when it works. But this was a Sony product, and it did not work. It transferred exactly one album and then went south. I reinstalled the software, but it didn't help. It could no longer even find the MP3 player, let alone copy anything to it.

I was left with a $250 player that I couldn't load any music onto, and a really lousy piece of music software that couldn't find the MP3 player. Neither one was worth anything to me, so back they go to CompUSA.

Obviously other people have a different experience from mine, or Sony would have been out of business long ago. But they're out of business as far as I'm concerned. When a company sells me six separate lemons over as many years, with no exceptions, I'm through trying.


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