284Did you know that Adam Sandler is the joint-second highest paid actor in Hollywood? Sure, Cruise may still have the top spot (by a long way) with the monumental Box Office success of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol putting him at an all time high, but the two leading actors in second place are Leonardo DiCaprio and Sandler. They couldn't be at further ends of the acting scale.
Now I have always enjoyed Sandler's movies, but mostly the earlier ones. Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and Mr. Deeds were all very funny - particularly if you like his patented brand of angry-man-child comedy. The good entries became less frequent after a while, however, with the likes of 50 First Dates and You Don't Mess with the Zohan becoming his only two decent comedies in a whole decade. Suddenly we were faced with more lightweight fare: Chuck & Larry, Bedtime Stories, Grown Ups and Just Go with It, culminating in 2011's Jack & Jill, which knocked Travolta’s scientology flick Battlefield Earth off the top spot of most Razzie Awards ever. Yes, that’s the one where Sandler won Worst Actor and Worst Actress, playing twin brother and sister lead roles. Oh and the one where Al Pacino falls in love with sister Sandler, and earns himself his first Golden Raspberry Award ever, for Worst Supporting Actor. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
You might wonder, then, how on earth Sandler’s managed to secure a second spot in Forbes’ ranking for the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Well, funnily enough, it’s not for any of his good movies. Indeed I can almost see why he doesn’t concentrate on more dramatic fare – the likes of Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Spanglish and Funny People were all sizable Box Office flops. And they’re the ones where he actually acts; they’re actually very good movies. Honestly, if you’ve never rated Sandler as an actor (or otherwise), try Punch Drunk Love out for size; you’ll likely be shocked. But if none of these films make him any money, then I’m not really surprised that he keeps churning out rubbish. For some reason, rubbish makes hundreds of millions of dollars at the Box Office. For some reason, people keep flocking to see rubbish, and then complain when it stinks.
So when I heard that I had the dubious pleasure of reviewing Sandler’s latest, That’s My Boy, I certainly didn’t get my hopes up.
Strangely – perhaps because of my rock-bottom expectations; perhaps I happened to be in the right, forgiving, mood; or perhaps because when Sandler gets it right, he can actually be quite funny – That’s My Boy turned out to be alright. High praise, eh? Well, considering the almost universally negative reviews and the nominations for 2012’s Razzie Awards, it certainly came as a big surprise.
The story follows the character of Todd Peterson, a successful young businessman on the eve of his wedding. Although he’s quite a shy, unassuming type – and he’s got one or two eccentricities – he finally appears to have met a young, pretty, and smart partner, who even comes from a wealthy and prestigious family. Yet he has a big secret: although he tells everyone that his parents died in a car explosion when he was 9 years old, that’s a big lie to cover up the embarrassing truth.
You see, Todd’s real last name is actually Berger, and his father is Donny Berger, a degenerate loser who spends the majority of his time hanging around in low rent strip clubs and drinking incessantly. But when Donny is told that he’ll have to come up with $43,000 to pay the IRS in back-taxes – otherwise he’ll be sent to prison – he takes a trip up to see his long-lost son, desperately looking for a way out.
I’m sure That’s My Boy will turn out to be something of a marmite movie to many viewers – the crude humour which involves everything from (brace yourself) masturbation and sex with elderly women to statutory rape and incest pushes the bounds at every turn, and will likely leave this a distinct love-it-or-hate-it adult comedy right from the unusual prologue. The thing is, you actually shouldn’t write this one off as just another Sandler misfire: it’s worth a rental to see if you actually find it funny. Against all odds – and expectations – I found myself either chuckling or laughing-out-loud almost throughout the feature and, despite it not standing up as notably memorable, this kind of compliment hasn’t applied to a Sandler film for quite some time.
Sure, the humour isn’t as sharp and wacky as You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, for example, but it does aim in the same general direction, with Sandler attempting to deliver a marginally different ‘character’ from his norm: i.e. playing himself. Many Sandler fans will probably recognise the ‘accent’ that he puts on through the piece, a strange kind of mock New Jersey drawl which sounds a little like the weird voice he sometimes effects briefly during some of his more prominent feature – and which he maintains for almost the duration of his early offering, Billy Madison. Whereas I didn’t particularly like his man-child Billy Madison – nor his voice in that – the affected accent is much more effective here, and suits his degenerate loser character; a has-been, briefly famous b-list star who is well past his prime (ironically, Sandler fits effortlessly into this role).
Indeed if you find that the humour (mostly) works for you, then you’ll probably regard this as something of a return to form for Sandler, who has wallowed in lame duck comedies – romantically-influenced and otherwise – for quite some time. Funnily enough, if we run with the rule that mostly it’s only Sandler’s lesser movies that make the big bucks at the Box Office, then this one – with its floptastic failure in not even recovering the budget, let alone the promotional costs – certainly does not fall within that category.
Following the traditional of the likes of Happy Gilmore, Mr. Deeds et al., That’s My Boy pulls in numerous bit-part actors – many of whom come from the same general acting pool as those other movies; comedians and others who also appear to be friends with Sandler himself. Of course there are also a fair few surprise wild-cards who make you wonder how on earth they agreed to do this piece but – unlike Pacino in Sandler’s last film Jack & Jill – they do all bring something to the mix.
From James Caan (who has finally gotten old) to Susan Sarandon; from Heroes’ Milo Ventimiglia (the son in Rocky Balboa) to Sarandon’s own actress daughter, Eva Amurri Martino (who you may recognise from a single episode of House or from a more regular role as a stripper in David Duchovny’s Californication), as well as another House alumni, Leighton Meester (Date Night, Going the Distance); there are a fair few familiar faces on board here. Sandler regular Nick Swardson pops up – he’s been in everything from Zohan to Just Go with It and he’s kind-of taken up the roles that would have previously gone to Rob Schneider in Sandler’s early movies – and there’s even a bit-part cameo for American Singer Ciara and a more substantial supporting role for none other than 80s one-hit-wonder Vanilla Ice!! His co-star Andy Samberg also shows reasonably good form, and some surprisingly good chemistry riffing back and forth with the main man himself; he makes for a good foil to Sandler’s crude antics.
Honestly, if you’re expecting something more than a crude R-rated (15 cert) comedy with lots of sexual references, un-P.C. jokes, and generally stupid inanity, then – sure – you’ll be disappointed. Those who enjoyed everything from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Get Him to the Greek; The Wedding Crashers to 21 Jump Street, should find this a decent enough addition. It’s neither got the all-out insanity of Zohan going for it, nor the perfect wit of Superbad behind it, but it’s the best Sandler’s come up with in a while, and for those who like him when he’s on good form, it makes for a pleasant surprise. Give it a rent and see what you think.
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