Adam Sandler can't support the shoulder pads in The Longest Yard, plus readers choose the oddest cinematic couplings.

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
May 27 2005 8:13 AM

Toy Boy

Adam Sandler can't support the shoulder pads in The Longest Yard, plus readers choose the oddest cinematic couplings.

Sandler playing football? Oy vey! Click image to expand.
Sandler playing football? Oy vey!

What is Adam Sandler's shtick? It's hard to pin down. It's foggy, but also aggressive. It's aggressive and passive-aggressive, like a prince acting like an imbecile to drive his courtiers crazy. It has proven more elastic—in The Wedding Singer, Punch-Drunk Love, and 50 First Dates—than anyone could have imagined, but it doesn't stretch to playing a disgraced NFL quarterback in a remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds/Robert Aldrich prison-football picture The Longest Yard (Paramount Pictures), about a bunch of cons who take on their sadistic guards in a game that turns into a violent (and funny) free-for-all.

The new film, helmed by frequent Sandler director Peter Segal, is a copy, beat for beat, of its predecessor, except that Segal—in the "here-ya-go-groundlings!" Sandler house style—hits the jokes much, much, much (much) harder. What was already a raucous put-on, a goof on Aldrich's brutal action movies, is now a hyperbolic, gross-out cartoon, with a cast of enormous ex-football stars (plus the 7-foot-2-inch Indian wrestler Dalip Singh) only adding to the air of facetiousness. Big guys in the original are now very big guys; Bernadette Peters' beehived zombie is now a horny, drag-show Cloris Leachman; and on and on. It hits its marks and will make a lot of money (it's a good Star Wars tonic), but it doesn't have Reynolds' twinkling machismo to hold it together.

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Sandler's physique isn't the main problem, although he can't pull off the opening sequence: Cosmo centerfold Reynolds really looked like a bored jock boy toy for a glamorous actress, while Sandler comes off as a weird slacker jerk who planted himself on her couch and wouldn't budge. (As the movie star who likes showing him off, Courtney Cox seems delusional.) The bigger handicap is Sandler's temperament. Football is not a sport for Jewish passive-aggressives, and so the central joke has no kick (or tackle). 

As the sadistic chief guard, William Fichtner has those amazing icy blue eyes and a frosty elegance—it's too bad he drops out of the picture (and gets a bogus redemption scene). Chris Rock is in there recycling himself as Caretaker: In movies, he's getting stale fast. Far more magnetic is the rapper Nelly, who seems comfortable in his acting debut, with the air of someone who knows he has the stuff to cross over. Maybe the best thing is Burt Reynolds in a supporting part as the inmate coach. It must have been humiliating on all sorts of levels, but I'm sure the paycheck was good and he walks through it wryly, as if aware that the joke that was his celebrity is now the joke that is fate.

Yoda, my love. Click image to expand.
Yoda, my love

Your mission: In my review of Star Wars: ROTS, I ventured that the mere sight of Samuel L. Jackson hanging with Yoda was the biggest visual disconnect in the history of cinema. Reader Larry J. Rothstein countered with a fat, wattled Roger Moore bedding Grace Jones in his last Bond picture, A View to a Kill. I smelled a Slate contest. ... I asked for two actors (or an actor and an object) who/that cannot be reconciled and threw you out of a movie. To make things more interesting, I also asked for two people who shouldn't have fit together on screen but had some strange alchemical connection anyway.

Well, folks, I'm not sure that anyone topped either Samuel L. Jackson & Yoda or Roger Moore & Grace Jones as the All-Time Cinematic Disconnect champions. But there was a surprise consensus favorite. By a startling majority of readers (and, remember, I nominated no one—these examples arrived without prompting), we have a Disconnect Titan:

The Woodman.

Yes, as Matthew Drake put it, "Woody Allen and EVERY WOMAN who has played opposite him romantically since 1977."

Among the entries:

"Woody Allen & Helena Bonham Carter in Mighty Aphrodite. The combination of her raw, earthy, slightly decadent persona and his neurasthenic fidget of a sportswriter just gave me the willies. Not even vaguely believable as a married couple." 
—Helen Rubinstein

"How about Woody Allen AND Billy Crystal as love interests for Elizabeth Shue in Deconstructing Harry? The sight of both of these (nearly) 60-plus men pawing the luscious Shue had me gagging on my popcorn."
—Jim Rollner

"Woody Allen and Helen Hunt in Curse of the Jade Scorpion. It was just creepy to watch the both of them."
—Sridhar Prasad

"I'd be hard pressed to find a worse pairing than an especially wilted and aged Woody Allen as the once and again love interest to the insanely sexy and youthful Tea Leoni in Hollywood Ending. The idea (and then image) of the two swapping spit was both nauseating and ridiculous. And I'm a big Woody Allen fan."
—Mitch Wertlieb

It's odd that no one mentioned the Woodman and his partner in the documentary Wild Man Blues: Soon-Yi Previn. But maybe that's a case of surprisingly alchemy: She doesn't seem all that wrong for him. Certain overmothered Jewish men need women who are alternately worshipful and ball-busting, and Soon-Yi, with her lithe body and sensuous mouth and bossy attentiveness, clearly fills the bill.

One more thing before we get off Allen's case. Back when he had a sense of humor, he made that disconnect with attractive women a source of laughs (and intentional squirms). But by his later movies, his celebrity had fogged his brain. He just acted entitled.

Before sampling more reader responses, I want to mention another stunningly inapposite pairing: Dustin Hoffman as the son of Sean Connery in the 1989 clunker Family Business. You think: Who was the mother? Dr. Ruth? Adding to the surrealism: Matthew Broderick (a wiseass showbiz kid resembling neither of his co-stars) as Hoffman's son. What made this even worse than it sounds (if that's possible) is that the film was about genetic ties that you can't transcend. Which is, come to think of it, exactly right.

Sylvester Stallone got some votes: Because of his titanic insecurity and its compensatory narcissism, he looks wrong with just about everyone. "mdw" cites Stallone and Martin Scorsese as hoodlums in Paul Bartel's 1976 Cannonball. ("Watch their scenes together—even more awkward than you might imagine.") Will Pfeifer mentions Stallone and Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man (also featuring Andre Gregory and Jesse Ventura!). It's a hard choice, but my vote for the worst Stallone pairing: with Dolly Parton in the H-bomb Rhinestone. It didn't work to cast Stallone as a grossly obnoxious idiot because he thought he had to, um, act.

Speaking of Dolly, from Keith Thompson: "Acting talent is not the issue with Dolly Parton and James Woods in Straight Talk. Woods has a marvelous knack for both comedy and drama, and Dolly Parton commands a crowd-friendly, folksy charm that suits her in many entertainment mediums. It's just the Tabasco-and-Haagen-Dazs pairing of the two of them that's so bloody jarring."

I like Woods, but he's so edgy and full of himself that he rarely connects with anyone. The exception, creepily enough, was as the ex- of Sharon Stone in Casino. They were strikingly plausible as a couple you'd ask to be moved away from in a restaurant.

Many of you wrote with examples of miscasting, which is a different issue (although I did like Kathleen Boergers' "Keanu Reeves interacting with Shakespearean dialogue in Much Ado About Nothing"). The fun thing about this contest is that it makes you think about that elusive quality, "chemistry," and why some movies play like failed science experiments.

Herewith, more of your favorite mismatches:

"Robert DeNiro and Rocky and Bullwinkle"
—Jeff and Megan

"In 1956, a film called The Iron Petticoat was released, starring the astonishing team of Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn. An updated riff on Ninotchka, it was written by Ben Hecht, who had his name removed from the film after Hope's TV writers had re-worked it. The film is caught up in rights conflicts and seems to have dropped off the earth, but in 1976, Leonard Maltin managed to get it freed for his American Comedy festival at the Museum of Modern Art. It is all one would imagine it to be. Hope and Hepburn play right past each other, and the only surprise is that Hope appears more comfortable than Hepburn, whose Russian accent leaves everything to be desired. I only hope that a Criterion Collection DVD is forthcoming."
—Steve Winer

"I'm sure there must be single case anomalies that are worse, but a special prize for inducing a whole genre of mismatch must go to Audrey Hepburn—with Bogart in Sabrina, Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, and O'Toole in How To Steal a Million. All these films are attempts to make canonical Audrey "ingenue/rom.coms." That universe needs a pretty bland male lead to be in orbit around Audrey, and that's simply not in the cards for, especially, Bogart and Cooper, who of course end up seeming like they've strayed in from another soundstage. The O'Toole case is a little different—O'Toole doesn't fit, but at that point in her career AH can't carry off the AH role so she doesn't fit either. The movie's a catastrophic failure because, as it were, it's an AH ingenue/rom.com which conflicts with the underlying Audrey subgenre at both satellite and central gravitational positions. Note: Charade doesn't seem to me to be an attempt to make a straight Audrey-ingenue/rom.com and so avoids these problems."
—Stephen Glaister

[I'm still processing the satellite/central gravitational thing, but you're right about Charade. It somehow manages to squeak by—maybe because we root so hard for Grant to get away with it at his advanced age. Which brings us to:]

"The first thing that came to my mind was a couple of the later Fred Astaire vehicles, Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Daddy Long Legs with Leslie Caron. Astaire looked like the kind of lecherous older man such attractive younger women would surely have steered clear of. But May-December pairings have always been the stuff of Western literature and drama, because that was considered normal in this society—as it is in many others."
—D. Shapiro

Nick and Babs: a popular favorite
Nick and Babs: a popular favorite

"Every time I think of Barbra Steisand and Nick Nolte 'making love' in The Prince of Tides it makes me want to throw up."—Leslie Olsson

[Streisand was cited by others, among them Jeffrey Davis, who went so far as to say, "Barbra Streisand and any other human in any live-action movie except All Night Long." I love All Night Long, but I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere near a set with Babs and the notoriously prickly Gene Hackman. Indeed, the director, Jean-Claude Tremont, never recovered from the experience. But Streisand can mix unexpectedly well. She did great with Omar Sharif and Robert Redford—who, as Pam Watson pointed out, rarely connects with anyone, except Paul Newman.]
 
"Jackie Chan and Jennifer Love Hewitt in The Tuxedo—I didn't see it, but do I have to?"
[Not without anesthesia]
"Richard Gere and Winona Ryder in Autumn in New York—I didn't see it, but DIHT?"
[For yucks]
"Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey in The Wedding Planner—Saw it. She was working hard to project P. Diddy or Ben or whomever into this wooden opposite."
—Justine Emma Barron
 
[Well, she didn't have chemistry with Ben in Gigli, either. With the magnificent exception of George Clooney in Out of Sight, J. Lo has never connected with anyone on screen. Especially:]
 
"Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan. Fiennes was visibly in pain, trying to act with a co-star who did not understand that misty brown eyes and wet lip gloss does not automatically give you depth. ... A worse pairing? Jennifer Lopez and Jim Caveziel in Angel Eyes. Misty, earnest brown eyes matched with misty earnest blue ones. Lots of furrowed brows, whispered dialogue, a climax of sound and fury, signifying an absolute chemistry vacuum."
—Natalie Smith

"Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor in Superman III. What were the producers thinking, casting a comedian known for controversy both on stage and off (and who, by the way, released an album called Supernigger) opposite the clean-cut comic book hero in a children's movie?"
—Colin Rutherford

[That was yet another of Pryor's skeeredy-cat "coloreds." What a bummer that one of the greatest comics this country has ever produced played so few parts in which he was allowed to be wild and super-aggressive.]

"Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. Every scene they were in felt forced and weird—like watching an exercise from acting class. Colin Farrell and Rosario Dawson in Alexander. He forces himself on her, yet she looks like she could break him in half."
—Dave Swanson

"Surely the horrifying pairings of Joan Plowright/Queen Latifah in Bringing Down the House and Judi Dench/Vin Diesel in Chronicles of Riddick are deserving of a mention. Watching Joan Plowright in the former is enough to move a grown man to tears."
—Caspar Salmon

"Laurence Olivier as Neil Diamond's poppa in The Jazz Singer."
—Phil Nugent

"Can we forget the gruesome twosome of late-seventies love matches? David Carradine and Liv Ullmann in The Serpent's Egg. ... Some Golan & Globus casting intern had a field day sticking dishy angstmonger Hanna Schygulla into Delta Force ..."
—mdw

"Tom Arnold as Hugh Grant's buddy in Nine Months (followed, of course, by Julianne Moore as Hugh Grant's girlfriend, and Chris Columbus as Julianne Moore's director). Grant and Arnold as pals reminds you of all those John Gielgud-Nat Pendleton two-reelers in the 30s."
—Mike Gebert

"Nothing can quite top, in The Greatest Story Ever Told, John Wayne looking up at Max Von Sydow [being crucified] and exclaiming, in his John Wayne drawl, 'Truly, this man was the son of God.' "
—Eoverpec

"Every scene where Rock Hudson and James Dean appear together in Giant destroyed whatever thin little strand of belief suspension I was occasionally able to muster during that monster."
—Charlie Hopper

"Granted, it was an animated movie, but hearing Eddie Murphy's and Julie Andrews' very recognizable voices together in Shrek 2 was a bizarre juxtaposition."
—Donald Cooper

Nick Nolte and Katherine Hepburn in Grace Quigley
Alicia Silverstone and Benicio Del Toro in Excess Baggage
Ice Cube and Elizabeth Hurley in Dangerous Ground
Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra in The Pride and the Passion
James Caan and a cowboy hat in Flesh and Bone
Matthew Broderick and a mustache in Glory
Patrick Swayze and an M.D. in City of Joy
Harvey Keitel and a product-placed box of Dunkin Donuts in Mortal Thoughts
Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet's vagina in Holy Smoke
—Scott Wilson

Now for the flip side: The Harold and Maude Prize for actors who shouldn't mesh but do, strangely but gloriously. Dave Swanson mentions Tracy and Hepburn and, really, isn't that the most triumphant disconnect in movies? He makes her human, she makes him interesting. Of course, the other Hepburn casting coup was opposite Bogart in The African Queen. On the other hand, Hepburn and John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn and the Lady

Let's consider:

"Michael Caine (Scrooge) and Kermit the Frog (Bob Cratchit) in A Muppet Christmas Carol. While most Muppet movies are played for farce, this one, I feel, has a level of emotional resonance. According to Caine (I get this from interviews on the DVD), this is because he decided to play the role of Scrooge straight, and ignore the fact that his co-star was made of felt."
—Sarah Savage

"There's a scene in Tony Richardson's The Loved One featuring Margaret Leighton and Milton Berle as a rich, married Los Angeles couple. The weird thing is it works—between her mixture of hauteur and hysteria and his 'whaddayagonnado?' shrug, you can imagine how they might manage to live together."
—Phil Nugent

"Remember Paris, Texas? Nastassia Kinski and Harry Dean Stanton are estranged husband and wife, separated by the violent force of their profound passion. It's impossible to imagine—and yet, in the climactic scene, wherein Stanton and Kinski trade Sam Shepard monologues, their love does indeed melt the screen. And they're in separate rooms! She's creamy, he's craggy, and love looks through a glass darkly."
—Mike Evces

"The very thought of Antonio Banderas (hot, sexy, hot, um, hot) and Tom Hanks (um, not hot) as a couple in Philadelphia made my head hurt. Turns out they were a really cute couple."
—Gillian Pilgrim

"Robin Williams and Peter O'Toole in the '80s movie Club Paradise had some weird chemistry that worked. It wasn't an especially good movie but you can't really begrudge anything that contains so many SCTV vets and Jimmy Cliff."
—Tom McCauley

"Leslie Nielson and Priscilla Presley in The Naked Gun would seem to be utterly incongruous, yet his sight gag humor, timing, and elastic face, and her wooden beauty created a hilarious mix."
—Kathleen Boergers

"Cher bedding Bob Hoskins in Mermaids and telling him, 'You're very sexy, you know.' This may be a candidate for the 'so odd it works' category, since I bought the connection when I saw the film, and it wasn't because I was rooting for the heavyset bald man to get some 'tang."
—Brian Calandra

"Beatrice Kiddo and Pai Mei in Kill Bill 2. Uma Thurman's sassy beauty and doe-eyed humility against that shock of white hair and soaring white mustache from which Gordon Liu barked orders in strangely hypnotic percussion—those two absolutely lighted up the screen!"
—Natalie Smith

"Jerry Lewis and Faye Dunaway in Arizona Dream."
—Dave Cullen

Wow. I didn't see Arizona Dream. Can anyone corroborate the above? If that pairing works, I might have to rethink my theory of the universe.

Thanks to everyone for the e-mails. May all your disconnects be emotionally resonant.

Update: OK, thanks, I got the picture on Emir Kusturica's Arizona Dreams. I must have been in rehab when it came out in 1993, so I'll check it out in the next month.

...3:31 P.T.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.

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