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Notes From The Back Row

Two Rocks and a hard place

Ah, the lazy days of spring in Whistle-town. Many of us are essentially unemployed, the sun is really starting to steal that winter chill from our bones, and let us not forget the best part of all, the re-introduction of the summer dresses and skirts.

Doesn't this time of year seem to be just perfect for a nice dose of recycled prison rape jokes? Or how about a kids' movie proclaiming it's best to suppress your natural feelings and just go along with everyone else? Well that's what we're getting for new flicks this week, and genius comedian Chris Rock is somehow associated with both.

First up is The Longest Yard, a prison football movie in which Rock plays the comedic sidekick to Adam Sandler who, if you can believe this, is cast as an ex-NFL Quarterback who purposely throws a game, gets caught, then breaks his parole and ends up hammered and leading cops on an OJ-styled chase. Although he was arrested in California he somehow ends up in a hard, sun-bleached Texas prison where the football-loving Warden convinces Sandler to lead a team of prisoners in a televised match against a juiced-up, badass prison guard team. The prisoners, of course, use the game as an excuse to lay a little smackdown on the guards, and the queen-cheerleaders cheer.

The Longest Yard

is a hard-hitting slugfest of a film aimed at fans of professional wrestling. (Pro wrestlers and ex-football players were cast as stuntmen and extras so the action looks real, and real brutal.) Adam Sandler is a bit too charismatic to be convincing as a hardened criminal but Chris Rock shines, although fans of his stand-up routines will find very little new material here. But Rock disappears from the movie far too early and is replaced by Burt Reynolds as a wily old veteran with tricks up his football sleeve.

While mildly entertaining Yard is a total remake of the 1974 film of the same name also starring Burt Reynolds, this time in the title role. The original is a better film, mainly because of its portrayal of America as a violent, kill-or-be-killed society. Back in 1974 this was socially pertinent; these days it's old news. Still, if all you want is to see/hear and feel some bone-crunching glorified violence, The Longest Yard fits the bill.

And if guys beating the snot out of each other in prison is totally your thing, check out Undisputed where heavyweight boxing champion Ving Rhames gets eight to 10 for aggravated rape and goes to the joint to fight a zen-like Wesley Snipes. It's simple, but it's blood, sweat and prison and for some people, that's enough.

Speaking of enough, here's another Dreamworks star-voiced animated feature to please the kiddies and make the adults chuckle at its tongue-in-cheekness and filmic references. Madagascar is about animals in the Central Park Zoo who escape and, through a series of mishaps, end up on the shores of Madagascar.

The lion, voiced by Ben Stiller, is happy as the star of the zoo, getting groomed and fed steaks daily. Out in the wild he must suppress his natural hunting instincts or end up eating his friends, who include the Hypochondriac Giraffe (David Schwimmer, I really despise that guy), the Hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and especially the fast-talking, ambitious Zebra (Chris Rock, whose best improv lines were too dirty to make the film).

It's a fish-out-of-water comedy that isn't as ironic or funny as it wishes. What I'm wondering is not why a kids movie is teaching that you should ignore your natural feelings/instincts, but really how many American children (or adults) have even the slightest idea where Madagascar is? Very few, I'd reckon, there isn't much oil there.

AT VILLAGE 8 May 27-June 2: Madagascar; The Longest Yard; Monster In Law; Star Wars III-Revenge of the Sith; Crash; Kicking and Screaming.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE May 27-June 2: The Interpreter.