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Retrospective Shabadoo! The Films Of Adam Sandler

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 10, 2013 at 4:28PM

Beloved on “Saturday Night Live” and loved a lot less since then, one need look no further than recent conversations about a box office weekend showdown (“Pacific Rim” vs. “Grown Ups 2”) to see just how far Adam Sandler's reputation has sunk with some audiences. Often perceived as a moronic blight on comedy and movies, this point is sometimes difficult to argue, especially in recent years as the quality of his comedies has become nearly negligible (though Armond White will fight you on that opinion to the death; that respected critic loves the man).
4
Anger Management

Anger Management” 
With "Anger Management," Sandler landed one of his biggest costars ever (Jack Nicholson) and wound up with one of his lousiest movies. Sandler plays a character who has anger management issues who, after an incident on an airplane, is assigned to the psychiatric care of Nicholson's doctor. That's about all there is plot-wise, which is even more infuriating as the movie crescendos to a plot twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan roll his eyes. Despite a strong supporting cast that includes Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly (as a monk, no less), January Jones, Krista Allen, Luis Guzman and John Turturro, very little about "Anger Management" is actually likable. The plot, concerning the crazy characters Sandler meets during group therapy, is totally lazy and forgettable, with Nicholson delivering one of his most water-thin performances ever (honest-to-god he seemed more engaged in "Wolf"). The movie's crumminess might be overshadowed by the fact that it spun off into a highly successful FX television series of the same name (designed as the crown jewel in Charlie Sheen's public rehabilitation program), which includes few similarities to its big screen counterpart besides a name and a strong urge on the viewer's part to run away screaming. [D]

Mr. Deeds
Mr. Deeds” (2002)
The dumb guilty pleasures of Adam Sandler films are often illustrated by the company he keeps. Kathy Bates in “The Waterboy,” Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management,” Al Pacino in “Jack & Jill,” Christopher Walken in “Click,” Harvey Keitel and Quentin Tarantino in “Little Nicky,” and Steve Buscemi (who has appeared in eight Sandler movies) to name just a few. He may not be the most highbrow guy in Hollywood, but some of Sandler’s comedies have provided enough silly laughs to attract some major talent who understand the appeal. The ace in the hole of “Mr. Deeds” -- about Longfellow Deeds, a sweet-natured, small-town guy who inherits a controlling stake in a major New York media conglomerate only to face opposition from the evil businessmen temporarily in control -- is John Turturro. Turturro plays Deeds’ loyal manservant Emilio who has a tendency to sneak up on his new boss. Why is this germane to “Mr. Deeds”? It’s not, but frankly, he’s the most interesting part of this otherwise, uninspired and lackluster film. While Deeds faces off against the main antagonist (Peter Gallagher), the rest of the film is devoted to a tired romantic subplot that centers on a desperate tabloid reporter (Winona Ryder) who must impress her wicked boss (Jared Harris) and find out all the dirt on who Deeds is (when Deeds gains first gains control of the company his identity is initially hidden and it creates a massive ripple in the New York media). The two fall for each other while Ryder’s reporter character wrestles with the fact that she is playing the guy for her career. While small roles by Erick Avari, Steve Buscemi and tennis player John McEnroe as himself enrich the comedy of “Mr. Deeds,” that’s not actually saying a lot and there’s a paucity of actual hilarity within. [C]

Little Nicky
“Little Nicky” (2000)
Panned all around, “Little Nicky” was nominated for five Golden Raspberries, losing out in each category to “Battlefield Earth” (yeesh!). This much-maligned Happy Madison take on the afterlife, with a particular focus on the netherworld, is led by Sandler playing the third son of Satan, “Little Nicky.” As a Sandler grotesque, Nicky has a crooked face and resulting speech impediment thanks to his brother hitting him with a shovel when they were kids, something many moviegoers may have been tempted to do while watching the movie. We have a sneaking suspicion this was greenlit due to a combination of the success of Kevin Smith’s similarly Devil vs. God-themed “Dogma” and Sandler’s recent hits “Big Daddy” and “The Waterboy.” That said, don’t write off the film just yet, it’s worth seeing just for the surprisingly great supporting cast, which includes Patricia Arquette as his mortal love interest, Reese Witherspoon as his guardian angel, Harvey Keitel as his father Beelzebub, Rodney Dangerfield as his grandfather, Welsh actor Rhys Ifans as his mutinying brother and a roster of cameos including Ozzy Osborne, Michael McKean and Quentin Tarantino. Simply, this isn’t for the light-hearted in terms of tasteless jokes and questionable bowel or sex-related humor (e.g. the movie opens on Jon Lovitz as a peeping tom). If you think Hitler getting pineapples and other awkward objects shoved up his ass for all of eternity is knee-slapping hilarious, this is the film for you. If not, why are you reading this list other than to troll on a perhaps-too-successful comedic icon? Scram before we send a (literally) boob-headed Kevin Nealon after you. [C-]

Big Daddy
Big Daddy” (1999)
Let’s praise Hollywood’s history of making parenting look like the world’s greatest, most responsibility-free adventure. A whole generation of Sandler fans likely found their biological clocks ticking watching Sandler play off identical moppets Cole and Dylan Sprouse, who collectively played a child left at the doorstep of Sandler’s pridefully-named Sonny Koufax. His first instincts are to use the child a prop to chase tail (vintage Joey Lauren Adams!) but soon he realizes he can become a serious father to the child, turning him into a pint-sized maniac. There’s no doubt Koufax is raising a future serial killer, arguing that raising the boy in accordance to his every whim (allowing him to call himself "Frankenstein") is similar to actual parenting. Otherwise, the film is loaded with the usual lowbrow Sandler hijinks, as his Happy Madison company began to develop a consistent formula at the time of “Big Daddy,” which at the time was Sandler’s biggest hit -- including, but not limited to, Rob Schneider playing another dubious racial stereotype, Sandler’s company-wide tradition of wincing at homosexuality, and the mawkish sentimentality that would try to make the manchild’s schtick go down easier. While “The Wedding Singer” was the first semi-plausible Sandler comedy where the actor showed a sweeter side, “Big Daddy” plays off the bizarre dichotomy of Sandler being a slacker enabler for the worst instincts of his co-stars and supporting characters, playing a hero who solves his problems by strictly reactionary gestures, farting and pissing all along the way. [D-]

Waterboy
The Waterboy” (1998) 
Is “The Waterboy” Adam Sandler’s last good Adam Sandler-made film? With a long, juvenile-even-by-his-standards sludge of movies that followed and soured his reputation (though not his box-office clout), it’s hard to argue this point. Like “Happy Gilmore” and “Billy Madison” before it, “The Waterboy” leverages the idiotically enjoyable side of Adam Sandler movies tapping deeply into the “it’s so ridiculously stupid, it’s funny” vein that served him so well for the first half of his career. “Special Needs” waterboy, simpleton and H2O aficionado Bobby Boucher’s life suddenly changes when he’s fired from his college football waterboy position.  But his life is then further transformed when a desperate fellow college football team (led by hilariously meek coach Henry Winkler in an amusingly funny pre-”Arrested Development”-esque performance) discovers that when taunted, Boucher displays a monstrously unstoppable and merciless tackling ability and becomes a member of the team. Sandler’s good comedies are often made by a good supporting cast and ‘The Waterboy” is no different. His excessively sheltering (and hilariously ignorant) mama is played with excellent aplomb by Academy Award winner Kathy Bates, and his delinquent, severely-arrestable girlfriend Vicki Vaillancourt is rendered by a terrifically convincing Fairuza Balk. Set in Louisiana, a lot of backwoods stereotypes are expertly abused by the comedy, including Bates’ ridiculous cooking (fried baby gators, frog burgers etc.) and her belief that pretty much everything she hasn’t taught her son comes from the devil. The random, out of nowhere appearance of Rob Schneider threatens to ruin the movie for a second, (never has a small part screamed, “hey old friend, do you have a bit part I can do on your movie to make some dough?” louder), as does the use of CGI (which would become dangerously more prevalent in later Sandler movies), but this little fairy tale rallies in the last quarter, much like the game, to indulge in some classically enjoyable sports movie endings (cliches be damned). Another familiar Sandler element that’s extremely pronounced is the movie’s soundtrack. Adam Sandler movies are notoriously budgeted way higher than the average, relatively inexpensive-to-shoot comedy. “The Waterboy” has money to spare with a soundtrack that includes every classic Creedence Clearwater Revival track, plus probably not cheap, very well-known songs by The Doors, The Animals, Earth Wind & Fire, John Mellencamp, Rush, The Allman Brothers and many, many more. Kanye West recently referenced “The Waterboy” on Yeezus, illustrating to many why this comedy still holds up today. [B+]

This article is related to: Features, Adam Sandler, Grown Ups 2, Feature


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