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Retrospective Shabadoo! The Films Of Adam Sandler

Retrospective Shabadoo! The Films Of Adam Sandler

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).

But, like him or not, Sandler’s been a bankable one-man brand for many years now, doing absolutely anything he wants in comedy (like giving buddies Rob Schneider and David Spade careers) with ridiculously high budgets (far surpassing the average comedy), and with tons of superstar guests to boot (Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Buscemi and even cameos by Quentin Tarantino and Johnny Depp to name a few). His status is something most comedians can only dream of achieving. His charming (?) mixture of schlubby everyman and schticky character actor is often critic-proof and his movies are almost always box office gold. And his occasional attempts at experimentation are almost always counterbalanced by the kind of feature that practically guarantees mainstream acceptance. It can be hard to love Sandler in recent years, but it’s impossible to deny he is a unique force; the Tom Cruise or Will Smith of comedy worldwide.

This week his first sequel, Sony‘s “Grown Ups 2,” opens nationwide, and we thought we’d… uh, mark the occasion by looking back at the bumpy, varied and sometimes unpredictable career of one of the most successful talents in contemporary comedy, Adam Sandler (wow, does it feel weird saying that). Get ready to remember all the silly voices and strained premises that have made him the star he is today. Shabadoo!

That’s My Boy” (2012)
Jack And Jill” was an underperformer as far as Sandler’s usual output, but “That’s My Boy” had to be the first time the comedian suffered an outright rejection from his core since the fairly adventurous “Little Nicky.” Maybe it was the R-rating; Sandler’s always been crude and disgusting, but he’s never found a way to exclude the teenage fanbase that made him a millionaire. The assumption was that Sandler’s core audience had grown with him, but perhaps they had finally grown tired, and seeing the vaguely lovable miscreant as a drunken deadbeat dad was a sobering reminder of the demographic’s mortality. Or maybe they finally caught on to the fact that Sandler stars in terrible, shapeless films with no shelf life: “That’s My Boy” adds to this typically slipshod construction (and typically improbable runtime of 116 minutes) by centering on a story that celebrates statutory rape, finding a young, pre-teen Sandler impregnating his teacher and enjoying a consequence-less fifteen minutes of fame well into his forties. His pursuit of a distant son played by Andy Samberg is more of a passing-of-the-torch from one “SNL” cast member to another, but it doesn’t work because Samberg is stuck playing the straight man to Sandler’s beer-addled antics, hamstrung by a straightforward narrative with room for only one of these comics to cut loose. Again, like “Jack And Jill,” there’s the sense Sandler is actually acting this time around (while also revealing his limited skill in that venue), but it’s buried under a nearly two-hour cocktail of jokes about sex, incest and prostitutes. Sandler pictures usually encourage audiences to cheer even when his characters are being selfish, obnoxious boors, but during the grotesque, Bud Light-sponsored climax of “That’s My Boy,” even his most diehard fans rejected the movie outright. [D-]

Jack And Jill” (2011)
Life imitates art: as George Simmons in “Funny People,” it seemed as if Adam Sandler was able to mock his sometimes (ahem, frequent) craven commercial pursuits in making pictures that appeal strictly to the lowest common denominator, buoyed by his silly faces and “funny” voices. Of course, “Funny People” was a noted flop, and somewhere in that thought process, Sandler must have felt that the film’s rejection somehow validated Simmons and his choices. Hence, “Jack And Jill,” which casts Sandler as both a thinly-veiled version of himself (here, a layabout Hollywood ad man) and his obnoxious, oversharing sister. The plot is humiliating for all involved, as Sandler’s Jack Sadelstein eventually finds a way to justify his sister’s presence by foisting her on a horny Al Pacino (Al Pacino) (Al Pacino!) in an attempt to convince the superstar to sign on for a Dunkin Donuts campaign that conveniently keeps Sandler’s penchant for product branding in all of his films alive and well. The surprise, if one could consider such a thing, comes from the fact that for the first time in years, Sandler is giving a real performance as Jill. It’s odd that the typical Sandler cruelty is present in this picture, considering Sandler himself creates a persona in Jill not only with a certain sadness to her, but also a definitive ethnic identity, which Sandler often prefers to downplay. Sandler hit-maker Dennis Dugan (“Big Daddy,” “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan”) proves that as a director, his sycophancy cannot be trumped by his ineptitude, consistently cutting away from Jill for cheap reaction shots or slapstick garbage, giving the feeling that, for the first time Sandler and his collaborators may not be on the same page. [D]

“Just Go With It” (2011)
In another excuse for Adam Sandler to get a paid vacation with a few A-listers in tow, “Just Go With It” is actually a very loose remake of the 1969 film “Cactus Flower,” mostly remembered as the film that gave Goldie Hawn her Oscar. Well, remake might not be right, how about vague interpretation? Sandler plays an L.A. plastic surgeon who lies to women about being in an unhappy marriage in order to get them into bed without all of that commitment nonsense. Because you know, every woman in her right mind is dying to be in a committed relationship with Adam Sandler, M.D. Really, as the title says, you just have to go with it, as Sandler attempts to woo Brooklyn Decker by using Jennifer Aniston, his assistant, and her kids as props (with Aniston acting as Sandler’s fictional unhappy wife) on a “family” getaway to Hawaii (adding another stop on the crazy train, Aniston is meant to have cheated on Sandler with Happy Madison cohort Nick Swardson, whose character is also in on Sandler’s ruse and joins in on the “family” trip last minute). With all plausibility and rationale out the window, it’s still a ridiculously convoluted and unfunny movie with overtly sexist overtones, particularly how Sandler sees Aniston in a whole new light once he sees her in a bikini. How they got Nicole Kidman onboard to play Aniston’s rival and actually do the awkward hula-off, we hope never to find out. Through Happy Madison magic and a movie-going public that’s given up, “Just Go With It” made over $214 million worldwide, which means we may see a “Just Go With It Again” in theaters Summer 2015. Godard, help us, help us all. [D+]

Grown Ups” (2010)
If you’ve got the money, might as well flaunt it, and “Grown Ups” is the ultimate celebration of the empire built by Happy Madison. The threadbare plot, involving the reunion of a former high school basketball team upon the passing of their coach, is a flimsy excuse to pair Sandler with fellow superstars Chris Rock and Kevin James, as well as professional barnacles David Spade and, again, Rob Schneider (who apparently made some enemies after the film’s release, getting booted for the sequel). The five actors bounce against each other like slow-moving props, directionless and vacant, as they seem to count their dollars before the audience. While their characters take long walks in the woods, go swimming at a local water park and generally act the way people who have never worked a single day of menial labor would, the audience is forced to endure the sort of schtick that feels rejected from these actors’ other works, including Spade’s feeble, boyish horndog act, and James’ proclivity for self-harming slapstick (Sandler and Rock, in contrast, just seem exhausted). “Grown Ups” is a film of little conflict and less substance, climaxing in a patronizing basketball game where Sandler’s notably upper class crew face off against former classmates who have become local townies (played by lesser “SNL” vets, appropriately), a class distinction that Sandler condescends towards by allowing his crew the loss, claiming that the other side “needed” the victory. How magnanimous of you, Sandler the superstar. [F]

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” (2008) 
Dismissed upon its release by critics (though it’s not like even the best dumb Adam Sandler movie has fared well with them), and even Adam Sandler fans, “You Don’t Mess With Zohan” is perhaps Sandler’s most ambitious film to date and his most criminally underappreciated later-era work. Primarily this is due to the writing, as ‘Zohan’ is penned by Judd Apatow and comedian Robert Smigel (aka Triumph The Insult Comic Dog who had cameoed in some of the earlier Sandler films) whose absurd premise makes for some laugh-out-loud amusement. Sandler stars as Zohan Dvir, a superstar Israeli counter-terrorist operative exhausted with all the bloodshed and intractable violence who just wants to quit and pursue his secret life-long dream: cutting hair, like his dated hero Vidal Sassoon. Disenchanted with the hypocrisies and bureaucracy of both sides, Zohan fakes his death in a fight with his Palestinian arch-enemy Fatoush “the Phantom” Hakbarah (John Turturro in one of his finest comedy roles) and reemerges in New York as a hairdresser with a completely new identity. The most respected soldier in the Israeli army, it doesn’t take long before other fellow expats at Eurotrash discos (Ido Mosseri) recognize him. The supporting cast is rich. Nick Swardson as Zohan’s first friend demonstrates why “Bucky Larson” aside, this guy is a great supporting player. Lainie Kazan as Swardson’s oversexed mother is hysterical and appearances by Emmanuelle Chirqui, Kevin Nealon and yes, even Rob Schneider (in his most tolerable Sandler-movie bit part) only bolster the comedy even further. Budgeted at a near-ridiculous $90 million, there’s almost no good reason any comedy should cost half this much, but ‘Zohan’ is filled with elaborate, ambitious action sequences that veer off into the absurd of CGI-necessary gags (the otherwise pedestrian Dennis Dugan’s most complex work to date, though admittedly, many of them are still clumsy and stupid). Libidinous, crass, scatological and crude, ‘Zohan’ isn’t afraid to spray its various streams of liquid across the screen (including an invented Israeli soda named Fizzy-Bubbeleh), but much of it is shockingly funnier than you’d expect. Much of the comedy also stems from the American Jewish comedians willingness to mock their Middle Eastern brethren — their hopelessly outdated pop culture taste, whether it applies to fashion, music, hair styles; the incessant electronic store haggling, the escalating hummus jokes — and it totally works. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the naive “can’t we get along” utopia depicted on the streets of New York where Jews, Muslims, Arabs and Middle Easterners of all stripes peacefully coexist, is simplistic and not terribly sophisticated, but it’s also subversive; the fact that the satire of this conflict comes up in a major mainstream comedy that grossed over $100 million at the U.S. box-office is pretty radical. [B+]

I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry” (2007)
Based in part on an infinitely funnier screenplay written by “Election” and “Sideways” creators Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne called “Flamers” (Payne later publicly bashed the released version of the movie, claiming the star “Sandlerized” his script), “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” concerns a pair of firefighters (played by Sandler and Kevin James) who pretend to be a committed gay couple to get benefits from the union. It’s a pretty sitcom-y premise, especially when you throw in a number of characters who want to prove that their marriage is a farce (led by surprising Sandler regular Steve Buscemi in a truly oddball role, even for him) and a forced love story involving Sandler and his comely heterosexual lawyer (Jessica Biel, in a role uniquely suited to both her sex appeal and comedy chops). When “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” is bad, it’s hide-your-face-under-the-pillow bad, especially in the beginning when the word “faggot” is dropped like loose change, but when it’s good, it’s surprisingly, upliftingly wonderful and subversive. This is particularly true in the case of the Ving Rhames character, a fellow firefighter who most of the other guys assume is some kind of ax-murdering madman, but who turns out to also be gay. This is another of the more visually striking Sandler movies, again because of the camerawork by Australian cinematographer Dean Semler, and even if it’s not 100% in the clear (things like Rob Schneider’s yellowface and some of the gags that can only be read as homophobic), it does come off, in the end, as a shockingly progressive piece of work by a man known primarily for his fondness of fart jokes and silly voices. You kind of wish you could hate it more, which makes it even more lovable. [B+]

Click” (2006)
Nothing ever goes right when you give a comedian god-like powers. Witness the joyless “Bruce Almighty,” where Jim Carrey takes on the mantle of supreme being and proceeds to mess around like a twelve-year-old for the film’s entire runtime. Worse yet is “Click,” where Sandler is gifted with a “universal” remote found in the depths of Bed, Bath & Beyond (“Family Guy”™). Where Carrey could always lean on his rubber-faced physicality, Sandler natters back and forth as an overworked everyman who uses the device to balance work and family, which is even less thrilling than it sounds on paper. In the meantime, the limited imagination on display results in a series of moments where he’s adding slow motion to a set of bouncing breasts (dumb), fast-forwarding through foreplay with wife Kate Beckinsale (INHUMAN) and eventually pressing a button to zip through meetings at work (WOW THIS IS EXCITING TELL ME MORE). But the biggest sin, other than being a laughless waste of time, is turning the remote into a teachable moment for Sandler, as he reveals he fast-forwards through entire years, skipping over touchstones in his childrens’ lives. “Click” turns maudlin in a hurry, forcing Sandler to go on crying jags in a hulking fat suit in order for us to suddenly find something to like about this indistinguishable oaf. There’s a nugget of gold in the casting of Christopher Walken as the kooky proprietor of the remote, but it’s similar to the one minute of screen time given a hilarious, mugging Terry Crews — there are funny ideas all around, and none the movie feels worthy of pursuing. [D-]

The Longest Yard” (2005)
The only Adam Sandler comedy in which the murder of longtime confederate Chris Rock is played for laughs (or, if not laughs, then extremely uncomfortable plot devices). A remake of the 1974 film of the same name, which also starred Burt Reynolds, “The Longest Yard” is a combination prison movie and wish-fulfillment fantasy that follows a bunch of inmates who play their guards in a game of prison yard football. (Sandler plays the part originated by Reynolds.) Of course, what makes the 2005 movie stand out is just how bland it is — there is a larger cast, many of whom are considerable athletic talents, and a more jazzed up final game, but very little in terms of heart or actual smarts. Sandler’s problematic relationships with race (Rock picks a lock with his afro pick) and sexuality (there is a gang of effeminate prison yard cheerleaders led by Tracy Morgan) are on full display. There are a number of fine supporting performances, though, particularly by William Fichtner as one of the guards and James Cromwell as the morally bankrupt warden (are there any other kinds?) “The Longest Yard” is also somewhat notable for being one of the very best-looking Sandler movies, thanks in large part to Australian cinematographer Dean Semler, who shoots a lot of the movie with natural light and deep, harsh shadows. There are even some editorial flourishes towards the end, including some De Palma-worthy split screen action. It’s not excruciatingly horrible but it’s not something that you’d actively seek out to watch, either. [C]

50 First Dates” (2004)
Re-teaming Adam Sandler with “The Wedding Singer” love interest Drew Barrymore, Sandler plays a commitment-phobe Sea Life Park veterinarian named Henry (yes, there are Walrus penis jokes) who falls for a chronic amnesiac named Lucy (Barrymore) in scenic Hawaii. Due to a car accident the year before, Lucy wakes up everyday thinking it’s that specific date, forgetting anything that has happened since. After meeting and falling for her, Henry is told of her condition, but won’t let that stop him. Remember, this is supposed to be a romantic comedy, not a stalker thriller. Henry begins by wooing her day-by-day and as his feelings develop and strengthen, so does the relationship change and take form thanks to Lucy’s diaries and his video for her that helps her catch up to what’s happened on a daily basis. Through some ups and downs, including her trying to erase him from her life entirely, the two find a way to make it work. Although out-there in its premise, “50 First Dates” is an endearing movie about two confused people in love. Unfortunately, it’s also burdened with a big dose of Sandler’s questionable and crude humor, making it miss the “The Wedding Singer” mark, even if Sandler and Barrymore cite it as one of their favorites. That said, besides a charming Barrymore, the cast includes Happy Madison regular Rob Schneider as a goofy pothead native Hawaiian, Sean Astin as Barrymore’s roided-up, hilariously short-tempered brother, and Dan Aykroyd as a neurologist. As an excuse for a paid vacation for Sandler and friends, it turned out pretty well, with a few real laughs and heartwarming moments thrown in. [B]

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” (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” (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” (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-]

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+]

The Wedding Singer” (1998)
First off, before you scroll to the comment section, we know “The Wedding Singer” is not a Happy Madison production, but we would be remiss not to include it in an Adam Sandler retrospective. One of the first, if not the first, movies set in the ‘80s that wasn’t made in the ‘80s (including nods to the Rubik’s cube and Michael Jackson’s Thriller jacket), “The Wedding Singer” is about a wedding singer (how’s that for a title hitting the nail on the head?) who gets left at the altar and finds friendship and ultimately love with a waitress (Drew Barrymore). Uncharacteristically, “The Wedding Singer” is a delightful and heartfelt romantic comedy with a real spark between Sandler and Barrymore (which they would reignite in “50 First Dates” and are scheduled to do again next summer in “Blended”). One of the better critically-received films of Sandler’s career, the film showed Sandler’s range as a leading man from depressed to hopeful to oh-so-angry with some actual, not meant to be funny singing thrown in. (Offscreen, Barrymore would compare Sandler’s musical ability to that of Bruce Springsteen.) Even so, Sandler fans won’t be disappointed as the film features some frat-level humor (meatballs are involved) and a now-characteristic roster of fun cameos/small roles — Billy Idol, Jon Lovitz, Steve Buscemi, Alexis Arquette… Although we’re hesitant when it comes to the romantic comedy genre in general, especially with Sandler involved, “The Wedding Singer” manages to hit all the right notes with laughs, tears and the urge to sing along, from an anger-filled “Love Stinks” to Jon Lovitz’s cringeworthy “Ladies’ Night” to Billy Idol taking part in one of the best romantic gestures on film. We dare you not to smile at “Grow Old With You.” Fun trivia note, the script included some uncredited work from Sandler, Carrie Fisher and Judd Apatow. Also, you can’t really argue with a soundtrack that includes Billy Idol, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, The B-52s and Flock of Seagulls. [A-]

Happy Gilmore” (1996)
Having named his production company Happy Madison, an amalgamation of “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” it’s clear Adam Sandler has a lot of affection for his first two films (others came before it, but these two crystallized his movie career as leading man comedian). And it’s easy to understand why: for years, the two pictures were well-regarded as his best two films. However, like “Billy Madison,” this comedy about an inept, would-be hockey player turned pro golfer hasn’t aged that well. Nonetheless, as dated as it is, it’s still pretty funny and relative to the rest of Sandler’s often dire output, one of his best. Happy Gilmore can’t skate for shit, but his life’s dream is to be a hockey player. The one talent he seems to posses is a ruthless slapshot. An old golf pro (Carl Weathers) tries to convince Gilmore to enter a local national-qualifying tournament, but none of it means anything to the rejected hockey player until his beloved grandmother’s house is seized for evading taxes. With prize money the only salve available to save granny’s house, Gilmore goes into the contests head-on, but soon runs into an arch-nemesis, Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald), an arrogant golfer hellbent on winning his first national championship. “Happy Gilmore” has all the gags you’d expect, but it also has an absurdist bent that contains many you’d have never dreamed of moments, including a balls-out fist fight with “The Price Is Right” host Bob Barker. Some of the stranger elements of the movie include appearances by SCTV’s Joe Flaherty, Ben Stiller as a cruel orderly in an old folks home, James Bond villain Jaws (Richard Kiel), some ludicrous daydreaming flashbacks (cue hilariously gross references to KISS), and the most shamefully gratuitous product placement of all time (Subway). “Happy Gilmore” is also notable as the film that introduced Dennis Dugan into the Sandler fold. The actor/director is a veritable workhorse for the Happy Madison stable, having directed nine Adam Sandler movies, plus the Happy Madison production “The Benchwarmers.” No other filmmaker has directed as many Sandler movies and aside from Happy Madison mainstays Frank Coraci and Peter Segal, Dugan is Sandler’s go-to-guy, especially of late (aside from the R-rated “That’s My Boy,” he’s directed every Sandler-starring Happy Madison film since 2007). [B]

Billy Madison” (1995) 
Recently, this writer (Erik McClanahan) fell into a long, impromptu discussion about Adam Sandler’s movies with several old friends, and nearly all of them talked serious shit about his (for all intents and purposes) leading man debut. It hasn’t aged well, they said. Boy, is it stupid, they added. We all agreed, it’s not very good, but god damn we loved it when it came out. Then, as if struck by some triumphant musical score swelling on the soundtrack (One of us almost started singing: “Veronica, I thank you, for beating the shit out of me!”), we couldn’t stop reciting all the many, many still hilarious moments from “Billy Madison”: the aforementioned rendition of “More Gum”; pretty much anything said by Norm MacDonald and Mark Beltzman as Billy’s constantly drunk friends (“They just drift through life like lumps of crap!” -“What the hell is she talking about?”); the old man and the case of the burning brown bag of dog poo; Billy’s maid Juanita (“He’s a nice piece ‘a ass too”); Steve Buscemi saving the day; Billy using The Puppy Who Lost His Way to answer a question about reflections of society in literature and its brutal, brilliant refutation by the moderator; and all those bizzaro flourishes like the penguin and the clown bleeding from his mouth, to name only a few. It’s in those weird touches in this and other early vehicles that Sandler was able to capture at least some of the tone of his best work — his extremely vulgar comedy albums — and put them to use in a PG-13 movie ready for mass consumption. The great lament we have for Sandler’s career is that he’s been seemingly too gun-shy to bring that level of vulgarity to most of his movies. A lot of great comedy is lost in shackling the goofy-speaking, violent man child with a watered down aesthetic. It’s also pretty insane to think about how, as he gets older, his budgets have risen to insane levels, yet they’ve never looked any better or more expensive onscreen than Billy Madison, which was made for only $10 million. Despite all that, it’s impossible to deny, for the right generation, that “Billy Madison” is a ‘90s comedy touchstone, finding that sweet spot between incredibly stupid and really, really funny. [B+]

And The Rest…
There are a few other Adam Sandler movies that are worth mentioning, although not in great detail — there was an early ensemble comedy “Airheads,” about heavy metal headbangers that become half-assed hostage takers (it’s become something of a cult classic, hopelessly dated but beloved just the same); “Bedtime Stories,” Sandler’s one and only foray into glitzy Disney family fare (complete with whiz-bang visual effects and a supporting performance by Russell Brand); and a pair of animated features — the traditionally animated “Eight Crazy Nights,” which was based in part on a song lyric in his popular “Hanukkah Song,” which originated during his tenure at “Saturday Night Live” (it’s thin and crudely animated, but hey, at least it’s a Hanukkah movie) and “Hotel Transylvania,” last year’s smash film, a computer animated marvel where Sandler played a neurotic version of Dracula (his accent is beyond questionable).

Where is “Punch Drunk Love” you ask? On the final page we look at five  Adam Sandler films that aren’t Happy Madison films and in some cases don’t even remotely resemble an “Adam Sandler movie.”   

And 5 Adam Sandler Films That Aren’t Happy Madison Productions 

Punch Drunk Love” (2002)
Brace yourself, dear reader, for a shocking statement: Paul Thomas Anderson is, like, a totally awesome filmmaker! Ok, all teasing aside, we do of course love us some PTA over at The Playlist (even though our EIC finds him to be a tad overrated — blasphemy!), and it is with this undoubtedly odd and adorable romantic comedy that the beloved indie filmmaking darling gave Sandler a huge gift — his best role to date. Sandler must’ve been waiting for the chance to stretch, because his performance matches and elevates what was on the page. He brings to life Barry Egan, the sad, closed-off toilet plunger salesman who wants to connect, but just doesn’t know how to do it. It really is the perfect distillation of the Sandler mythos, turning off those who just wanted to see another dumb comedy vehicle and exciting arthouse snobs who couldn’t believe he was capable of such pathos. There’s so much to love about “Punch Drunk Love” — Jon Brion’s magical score, an encapsulation of all rom coms to that point but also capturing the feeling of love in music; Robert Elswit’s typically lush framing and moving camera; the bizarre non-sequiturs; Jeremy Blake’s artwork, sort of used as chapter breaks; Barry’s eight sisters; the pudding — that listing it all could take thousands of words. Sandler and Emily Watson are perfectly matched romantic leads, creating a useful shorthand for the audience just by the way they look and sound, even moreso if you’re familiar with their screen personae. This is when PTA took a step in another direction, mostly leaving behind his roots as a Tarantino-esque referential director, and making something uniquely his. In hindsight, this is when the gifted filmmaker really came into his own, found his voice and would hit even greater heights with his next film. If you haven’t watch “Punch Drunk Love” in a while, do yourself a favor and revisit, you’ll be glad you did. [A]

Reign Over Me” (2007)
A well-intentioned drama about 9/11 post traumatic syndrome and friendship, 2007’s “Reign Over Me,” is ultimately a maddeningly uneven effort that stumbles often over its own clumsiness while trying to tell the story of one man’s recovery with authenticity and dignity and instead dialing up phoniness. Don Cheadle plays a family man dentist who desperately needs release from his controlling wife (Jada Pinkett). And he finds it in Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), an ex-college roommate who lost his family in the 9/11 tragedy. Cheadle’s Alan Johnson hasn’t heard from Charlie in years, but in a chance meeting in New York, the two old friends are reunited. Suffering from brutal PTS, Sandler’s Charlie is deeply troubled, withdrawn and refuses to talk about his past life. Sandler puts in a mostly admirable performance, but neither filmmaker Mike Binder’s lame script and poor direction does him much help and eventually the bad, cloying and clumsy movie overshadows every performance. Much like the classic rock music the movie is desperate to shoehorn in at every turn — you can just picture Binder writing the screenplay to half this music and pumping his fists with self-approval — Sandler generally has two notes: the meek, mumbly half and the loud, angry, outraged half which borders on an outburst out of… well, an Adam Sandler movie. Despite the two notes, the goofy, Bob Dylan-inspired hair and the dialogue that makes him incessantly reference Springsteen, The Pretenders, Jackson Browne, et al (the movie is titled after a Who song that is covered poorly in the credits by Pearl Jam), Sandler feels like he’s sincerely in it to win it. So much so that you wish a more nuanced director would have taken the basic skeleton of this movie, rewritten it and given Sandler and all the characters a bit more honesty and dignity to work with. [C-]

Spanglish”  (2004)
Like “Reign Over Me,” it’s unfortunate and disappointing that when Adam Sandler finally puts down the silly character and voices for a minute and attempts honest sincerity, the movies often fail him. Such is the case with 2004’s “Spanglish,” another movie where Sandler delivers a thoughtful, restrained and subdued performance that is mostly all for naught in a sea of shrill female characters.  James L. Brooks is lauded the world over for his films; he practically invented the dramedy with movies that artfully tap into the dramatically funny moments of life and the hilariously painful ones as well. But with a knack for unpleasant characters and broad sitcomy affinities, both proclivities tend to unravel his films (arguably going back as far as “As Good As It Gets”). About a Hispanic woman, Paz Vega, (and her daughter) who becomes the housemaid for a wealthy Caucasian family — led by the monster of a shallow matriarch played by Tea Leoni, who might just be the most horrible mother ever committed to screen — “Spanglish” says some interesting things about class lines and divides, but it’s also trying to say a mouthful about mothers, marriages, identity, careers, family, daughters and mother relationships and children. And Brooks simply can’t sustain it all with a screenplay that is brutally honest in some moments and then hamfisted and dishonest in others, to the point where it inadvertently becomes an unfortunate misogynist melodrama (the grandma is an alcoholic, the mother is vile, selfish control freak, the maid is a proud, hot tempered Latina who doesn’t want the White Lady to parent her daughter). Off in the corner, left of these various hot messes is Adam Sandler as the successful, but unappreciated husband; a mensch who has to try to navigate his family chaos. It’s a decent performance, Sandler relaxed and at ease is at his most likable. And Tea Leoni’s character is so narcissistically wretched, you empathize with him and it’s understandable why an ill-conceived third act romance with the maid is necessary if only to give the man a shred of his dignity back. But “Spanglish” is far too muddled, broad and unpleasant and he’s completely overshadowed. Not to mention the movie is totally offensive and counterfeit in its exploitation of multicultural social commentary for its own cuddly and phony attempts at feel-goodery. [C-]

Funny People” (2009)
Looking back at this team-up with friend and collaborator Judd Apatow (in full-on James L. Brooks wannabe mode with this one), a lot of should’ves and could’ves tend to come to mind. It could’ve been the pinnacle of a career built on financially successful yet mediocre in quality work that’s buried Sandler into a creative stasis. It should’ve been the movie about stand-up comedy, instead that’s only half the story. The first half of “Funny People” is so good that it makes the second half, when it pretty much ditches the behind the scenes look at stand up comedians for a domestic showdown between Eric Bana and Sandler’s George Simmons (playing a thinly veiled version of himself, complete with awful-looking comedies that aren’t that far off from reality) for the heart of Leslie Mann. Apatow deserves credit for taking Sandler out of his comfort zone, and he was rewarded with one of the “SNL” vet’s strongest performances to date. The problem with the film, in the end, is that Apatow tried and failed to play the genre mashup game. Tone is key when grafting together two disparate stories, and Apatow manages to mostly sustain the right pitch through the eventually grueling 153-minute runtime, but the thing he didn’t seem to take into account is that, once your movie switches gears, the next story has to either be better than what came before, or at least as compelling. For those who loved all the great stuff about the celebrity-laden, depressing world of stand-up comedy, the story shift near the midway mark is where the train falls off the rails. We applaud Apatow’s ambition, but if he’d split off these two ideas into separate movies, the truth would emerge: the movie about comedy is great on its own (it could’ve been a masterpiece) and the domestic, one-that-got-away lamentation couldn’t sustain an entire feature. It should’ve been so much better! [C+]

Bulletproof” (1996)
The premise seemed surefire enough: Sandler would channel his filthier side (evident in his comedy albums, one of which prominently featured a talking goat who is viciously abused by his owner), partnering up with a genuine comedy legend (Damon Wayans) while nestled comfortably inside a buddy comedy template perfected by movies like “48 Hrs” and “Midnight Run.” While it doesn’t quite measure up to what it could have been, thanks largely to a slack script that should have given the actors more to do in half the time (every supposed “twist” is telegraphed from about a mile away), it’s still an experiment that largely works, to the point that you wonder why Sandler has never returned to similar action-comedy territory. The minor success of “Bulletproof” mostly has to do with the lively direction of Ernest Dickerson, who would go on to direct some of the most memorable episodes of AMC‘s creatively unmoored “The Walking Dead,” and the chemistry between Sandler (who plays a car thief connected to a deadly drug kingpin) and Wayans (who plays the undercover cop who busts Sandler and ends up being stuck with him). James Caan phones in his role as the villainous drug dealer, but still manages to have fun with what little he’s given. Darker and stranger than most of Sandler’s widely known fair, it’s not the kind of movie that’s primed for critical reappraisal, but if it was, most would discover it to be a better-than-average action movie that was overshadowed at the time due to the superiority of other movies in the marketplace. As a rental, it’s worth it, if only to hear how Sandler identifies the porno he’s watching as being from the seventies: “The guy’s dick’s got sideburns.” Sandler chuckles to himself and we chuckle along with him. If only he had done more movies like this. [B]

– Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Rodrigo Perez, Erik McClanahan, Diana Drumm

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