Adam Sandler's New Flick Is Actually Funny--For The First Hour Or So.
By James DiGiovanna
JULY 5, 1999: WAITING FOR THIS movie to start, I felt like I was sitting in the dentist's chair watching him sharpen his drills.
I have to confess: I have very little tolerance for Adam Sandler. I found Billy Madison to be the equivalent of having super-heated knitting needles slowly driven into my eyes, and his gibberish-talk on Saturday Night Live seemed like some kind of dadaist substitute for "comedy" or "entertainment."
Thus, I was heartened when I heard a 7-year-old sitting behind me say, "Adam Sandler is funny." Oh good, I must have been mistaken.
Then the movie started, and, to quote all the quote-whore critics, "I laughed out loud." How embarrassing. It was actually funny. For nearly an hour, until the lame premise caught up with the flow of gags. Then things petered out, but hey, one hour of funny movie is much more than you can usually expect for your $7.50.
This isn't to say that Big Daddy is a good movie. As a movie, it pretty much sucks, but as a collection of gags it's not bad.
Here's the problem: the plot. It seems that Adam Sandler, as Sonny Koufax, is a lazy ne'er-do-well with no sense of responsibility who's been living off an accident settlement since he graduated law school. There's something deeply surreal about Adam Sandler uttering the line, "Maybe you can try suing under the Foreign Court Practices Act." Of course, he hasn't taken the bar, or gotten on with his life, as he's Adam Sandler, who is obliged to play the loser who must learn life's lessons about responsibility and being a grown-up before the movie is over (see every other Adam Sandler film).
So, of course, when his roommate (Jon Stewart) moves to China, a 5-year-old boy named Julian shows up on Sonny's doorstep with a note saying he's the long-lost son of said roommate.
So, of course, in order to impress his girlfriend, Sonny poses as his roommate and adopts the kid.
Then his girlfriend dumps him, and he's stuck with Julian. But guess what? Sonny's heart, it seems, is made of gold, or some gold-like element in the lanthanide series (it's not really clear from the script). He falls in love with the little boy. He expresses this love by letting Julian do whatever he wants, eat whatever he wants, and live pretty much all over the place--just like irresponsible, gold-hearted Sonny! I wonder if they'll both have to grow up...together!
During these sequences Sandler manages to rattle off quite a few good one-liners, the pleasure of which was only partially diminished by the string of pee, vomit and spit jokes. Shockingly, there were no poop jokes. I repeat: a Hollywood comedy without poop jokes. Were the fake-poop exporting countries enacting some kind of embargo during the filming of this movie? It remains a great mystery.
After about an hour of Adam Sandler cracking wise, it becomes obvious that both he and the little boy are in need of some discipline, and that Sonny has to repair the relationship with his father, and become a grown-up, blah blah blah.
Look, if we know that this is going to happen, why make us watch it? Why not just spend the entire 90 minutes in non-heartwarming mode and then run a text-scroll at the end that says, "And then Sonny became a responsible grown-up-type person. The end." It's certainly much more fun to watch Sandler as he asks a kindergartener, "How about you kid...you like popping the chiba?" than it is to see him hug his father and learn that it isn't all fun and games being a dad.
The effort to be socially redeeming is almost a complete waste, except for one reasonably subtle element. Two of Sonny's male friends from law school discover that they are in love with each other, and there are some male-male kisses and cuddling on-screen. Sonny has no problem whatsoever with this, and perhaps Sandler's audience of beer-swilling frat boys will take a lesson from his attitude. On the other hand, the beer-swilling frat boys sitting behind me in the theater shrieked "That just ruined the movie!" when the two men kissed, so maybe homophobia is stronger than ill-plotted Hollywood comedy. I guess it takes a lot of work for the frat-boy crowd to justify their nude beer-slides and bare-assed paddlings.
Sandler does do his best to relate to the lowest common denominator in the audience, putting it on the line when Sonny announces that Styx is his all-time favorite rock band. Joey Lauren Adams, as his love interest, is taken aback by this, because Styx is her favorite band too! Sonny even trains young Julian to say "Styx is the greatest American rock band and the only reason the critics never say so is because they're all cynical assholes." Hear hear!
Sandler has a basic Styx-like charm: who hasn't caught themselves humming the tune to "Sailing Away"? And "Mr. Roboto" is nothing if not shameful fun. Still, even Styx didn't think it was a good idea to tack a half-hour on to the end of the Paradise Theater album in order to tie up loose plot ends. They just kept rocking 'til the vinyl ran out.
My friend Sidney Moncrief probably summed it up best when he said of watching Big Daddy: "I didn't feel violated, like I do with most Hollywood movies...it's just that it was so half-assed." Half-assed is basically what Sandler does best; he plays half-assed guys who lead half-assed lives in half-assed comedies that become half-assed dramadies. That's why America loves him: he's the entertaining idiot at the party, the one who's fun to watch, but never makes you feel that he's in any way better than you.
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