It’s been argued that Adam Sandler shouldn’t be making movies. That he’s nothing more than a man-child who refuses to grow up. This would be fine if he was a candy maker with the initials W.W. I contend that he should get out of his funk (a very lucrative funk at that) with some outside-the-box casting. After all, there was a time when he was on the shortlist to appear in such films as Collateral and Inglourious Basterds. Hell, he even worked with P.T. Anderson. A long time ago, he was just a guy who wasn’t ready for primetime – actually I take that back. He was Theo’s friend on The Cosby Show. After a successful stint on Saturday Night Live he transitioned to feature films where he’s played everything from an Airhead to a Zohan.
I was thirteen when his first headlining comedy Billy Madison was released. And the timing was right. The comedy had a Peter Pan syndrome vibe that early teens could relate. And apparently Sandler took never growing up seriously. He revealed all his bag of tricks in that comedy as the rest of his filmography mostly has him repeating his man-child ways.
Knowing all this, there still appeared to be a silver lining with his latest comedy, That’s My Boy. And that difference was in its writer and director – two men with whom Sandler had never worked with before. David Capse, creator of the very funny ensemble TV comedy Happy Endings, wrote the screenplay, and Sean Anders directs. This is Anders’ second time directing a feature. He previously helmed Sex Drive, an overlooked restricted comedy that was DOA at the time of its release and featured Cyclops (nee James Marsden) coming out of the closet years before Green Lantern. So on a cosmetic level That’s My Boy looked to be different. It also had a restricted rating. Considering that Sandler has done bad movies that were rated PG or PG-13, the R-rating ensured that he wouldn’t play safe.
Unfortunately, my wish fulfillment was dashed within minutes of the comedy’s opening song selection, Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages.” (Coincidentally, this song can’t be heard in other major release this weekend, the musical Rock of Ages.) The premise is that of an impromptu family reunion with Adam Sandler’s character re-entering the life of the kid he fathered as the result of a scandalous affair with his middle school math teacher back in 1984.
Watching everything play out a few thoughts popped into my head. Now I can’t remember the order in which they arrived but here are the bullet points: Mary Kay LeTourneau; Mike Judge’s Idiocracy; Rodney Dangerfield telling Robert Downey Jr. that he looked like the “poster boy for birth control” in Back to School; and realizing this comedy is 114 minutes long – are you kidding me?
Any optimism I had going in quickly vanished and it was replaced by disappointment, then displeasure, then anger, before finally arriving at regret. Who needs the stages of grief when you can go from critic to cynic in the span of an Adam Sandler movie? I may have missed a step or two but the sentiment is there, unlike That’s My Boy, which is devoid of sentiment, humor and intelligence.
Once again Adam Sandler is playing a man-child, this time Donny Berger. Boston born and bred, Donny has led an infamous life milking the notoriety after impregnating his schoolteacher. A tabloid fixture on television and in magazines (he shares the cover of Tiger Beat with the Two Coreys!), Donny’s mission is one about evasion. He’s been evading taxes, fatherly responsibility – you name it. With the teacher in prison, Donny’s offspring (played by SNL’s Andy Samberg) does his best to distance himself from dear old dad by leaving home at the age of eighteen and changing his birth name of Han Solo Berger to Todd Peterson.
A dilemma arises when Donny’s financial advisor (Rex Ryan, here playing a New England Patriots fan – get the joke? Unless you know football the humor will fly over your soon-to-be lobotomized brain) tells him that he needs to pay the IRS forty-three Gs in back taxes or be sentenced to three years in prison. So in a pinch Donny reaches out to Todd, who manages a successful hedge fund, on the weekend that Todd is about to wed his beautiful fiancée, Jamie (Leighton Meester). Looking like a roadie for Poison, Donny makes his presence known at Todd’s boss’ lavish summer home much to Todd’s chagrin.
Doing his best to blend in with the rich folk, Donny soon becomes that guy that everyone wants to know. Like some kind of social experiment, the wedding party attracts to the beer-swilling, mullet-sporting Donny, instead of Todd who is of sound mind, despite a few hidden peccadilloes that reveal themselves. The reason is unclear, since Donny is in full-on douchebag mode. Clearly, the houseguests must have cotton balls lodged in their ears to tone down Donny’s excruciating Bostonian accent – so thick and coarse I was waiting for the eventual Matt Damon beatdown followed up with a question about apples.
That’s My Boy falls victim to a trend that has plagued many a Sandler film, and that trend is having descriptors as character representations. So instead of actual supporting characters we have Jamie’s jarhead brother, Chad (Milo Ventimiglia); Vanilla Ice as Vanilla Ice (not much of a stretch there); and a plump stripper (Luenell) among others. Todd and Donny are easily identifiable as Neurotic and the Imbecile, which would actually be a better title than what we got. Hell, the original title, I Hate You, Dad was more fitting.
As the comedy moves from one bad joke to another I started to question whether or not Capse actually wrote this. No way the creator of Happy Endings could craft something as brain-hemorrhaging stupid. Most of the actions and reactions are just idiotic. Like the need to racially insult the Chinese household staff, or bring back the “Wassup” made (in)famous by Budweiser. The latter’s inclusion must be in direct relation to the number of Buds Donny swills.
That’s My Boy is a comedy of wasted potential. The inappropriate student-teacher relationship is a great springboard for social commentary on the double standard to such acts. Sadly, any opportunity to find humor proves futile. Bad jokes become lewd become tasteless, with the prerequisite strip club, masturbation, oral sex, bong hit, et al. There’s also one reveal that’s so out of left field that it goes beyond the point of being racy to the point of retch.
Playing to Adam Sandler’s zombified crowd of supporters, That’s My Boy represents a new low for the actor. With maybe one or two good laughs, we are left with a 114-minute comedy that brings forth a new level of stupidity. Look for this one to take up residence in a special place in hell alongside Freddy Got Fingered.
Director: Sean Anders
Writer: David Capse
Notable Cast: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Milo Ventimiglia, Vanilla Ice