Screens Man in motion

Joey Diaz dashes, in thong and work boots, for 'The Longest Yard'

The old wise-cracking stud is now the mentor: Burt Reynolds, center, coaches Chris Rock and Adam Sandler in a remake of 1974's The Longest Yard.

Although comedian Joey "Coco" Diaz' true love is stand-up, he doesn't mind squeezing in a film or television role every now and then to broaden his horizons.

"Nothing is as fun as doing stand-up - nothing," Diaz told the Current in his thick New York accent via phone from Los Angeles. "But that's what's great about being a stand-up comedian and an actor. I can book stand-up all year long and if I get a movie, bang, I cancel it. I don't lose."

Born in Havana, Cuba, Diaz grew up on the West Side of New York where he played defensive end for his high-school football team. Diaz finds himself back on the gridiron in The Longest Yard, a remake of the 1974 film, this time starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock.

"After `high school`, I never played football again," Diaz said. "With this it was a lot different. You had to get used to having a helmet on again."

The Longest Yard

Dir. Peter Segal; writ. Sheldon Turner; feat. Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burt Reynolds, James Cromwell, William Fichtner (PG-13)

Adam Sandler, who played the mindless, football-loving knucklehead of 1998's The Waterboy, returns to the field in a remake of The Longest Yard, this time to lead a group of convicts in a game of respect against the shady and racist prision guards who treat them like dirt.

After violating his parole by taking his girlfriend's Bentley out for a late-night spin with a six-pack in hand, football star Paul Crewe (Sandler) is thrown into a dusty Texas penitentiary and quickly given an assignment by Warden Hazen (Cromwell) to recruit a team of inmates to compete with his brawny, redneck badge-wearers.

In addition to an uninspiring homecoming by Burt Reynolds, who starred in the 1974 original, Sandler is joined by Caretaker (Rock) as his right-hand-man. Like all of the lackluster prisoners, Caretaker is a one-joke character who stays stagnant because of the weak script by first-time screenwriter Sheldon Turner.

The only real laugh comes when the prisoners replace one of the guard's anabolic steroids with estrogen pills, causing him to experience hot flashes and emotional yo-yo-ing. Even this gambit, however, is played out by the game's end.

Throw in an overzealous score by Teddy Castellucci (White Chicks) during some of the huddle pep talks and The Longest Yard must be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

By Kiko Martinez

Diaz began his film career playing a referee in 1998's BASEketball and went on to land roles in 2002's Analyze That starring Robert de Niro and 2004's Taxi starring Queen Latifah. He also has made special guest appearances on television, including Cold Case and Law & Order: SVU.

A personal favorite film moment, Diaz said, was when he played one of the train passengers who stands up to Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. "Oh, I would have beat up Dr. Octopus," Diaz said, explaining that there just wasn't enough room on the train during the fast-paced scene. "I would have knocked him out ... and showed him who was boss."

After his brush with cinematic heroism, Diaz heard about the remake of The Longest Yard, a film he first saw as a child, but he had doubts about remaking the Burt Reynolds sports vehicle.

"When I heard it was starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, I was like, 'Yughhh,'" Diaz said. "But then I thought about it and realized that `The Longest Yard` had a lot of gaps. I knew Adam would break down the characters a lot more."

In The Longest Yard, a former professional quarterback is forced to put together a group of inmates to play football against the prison guards. Diaz portrays a convict named Big Tony, a "violent but lovable ... ex-mob guy from New Jersey" who's been in the pen for 15 years.

"He's kind of whacked," Diaz explains, "but you love him for who he is anyway."

Once he learned he won the part, Diaz said the first thing he had to do to prepare for the role was exercise. Although he had been studying Tang Su Do (a type of martial arts), Diaz, who professed that he is an orange belt, knew he wasn't as physically fit as he needed to be.

"They had a personal trainer working with me just stretching," Diaz said. "I don't even have to tell you what kind of shape I was in."

Despite his flabby appearance, as a youth Diaz looked up to muscle-head football players, including New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Not a hardcore football fan, per se, Diaz, who admitted he was "a fan of whoever covers the spread," also followed the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers. Like the original, this year's The Longest Yard uses pro football players, including ex-Chicago Bear Bob "The Beast" Sapp and ex-Cowboy Michael Irving, to add realism to the film,.

"I first met Michael Irving on The Best Damn Sports Show Period and I fell in love with him immediately," said Diaz, although, he adds, he would rather watch Ultimate Fighting Championship. "He has this really warm personality and is such a strong-minded guy."

Diaz said he also developed a close bond on the set with Chris Rock, who he knew from the stand-up circuit. "I would just turn to Chris and say, 'Chris, I need a line' and he would come up with something in, like, two seconds."

Rock's improvisation was a perfect match for Diaz, who always ad-libs on stage. He said that working with actors like Sandler, "who doesn't go by the script," felt like home to him. "Anything can happen with Adam," Diaz said. "I figured it out and made adjustments so I could get into the scene with his type of mentality." In one such scene, Diaz said he stripped down to a thong and a pair of work boots and told Sandler he was going to do the scene in his limited attire. "`Adam` said, 'Hey, do what you want,' and then he started laughing his ass off. It's encouraging when someone is open to your ideas."

By Kiko Martinez

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