When Adam Sandler struck a four-picture deal with Netflix in the fall of 2014, it made a lot of sense. The streaming service is the perfect home for the comedy superstar: Some people make films intended to be seen on the biggest screen possible, while Sandler makes films that play best on your roommate’s crusty laptop when you’re recovering from a wicked hangover on a Sunday morning.
Netflix, hoping to transform their streaming service into a viable home for first-run movies, was clearly using Sandler as a stab at legitimacy. All the SNL veteran had to do was deliver wet slabs of content — four films that viewers could conk out and binge with the press of a single button, the end credits of one feature bleeding into the opening credits of the next.
Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening. On the contrary, Sandler has used the contract as an opportunity to lightly stretch his limits. With last year’s “The Ridiculous 6,” he tried his hand at a genuine genre picture, making a more racist version of “The Searchers.” This time, he’s returned with a less funny version of “Michael Clayton.”
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Directed by Steven Brill (who previously collaborated with his star on the likes “Little Nicky” and “Mr. Deeds”), “The Do-Over” begins with the same basic premise that’s become the bedrock of Sandler’s brand: A middle-aged, middle-class white guy who’s sick of his dead-end life and all of the shrewish (yet slutty!) women that define it is suddenly plunged into a generic fantasy. Usually, that fantasy is of the juvenile variety — fighting video-game villains, receiving a truly universal remote control, fulfilling every teen boy’s wish of pretending to be married to Kevin James, etc. — but here, Charlie McMillan (David Spade) is granted a uniquely adult wish.
Introduced at his high school reunion as he watches his trainwreck wife (Natasha Leggero) grind on the dance floor with her ex-husband, Charlie is your garden variety sad-sack. But this will prove to be a fateful night for him, as he’s reacquainted with his comparatively suave old friend Max Kessler (Sandler), who you can tell is a cool dude because his name tag says “Maxi-Pad.” Jokes. Sandler doesn’t waste any time reassuring viewers that he’s pretty much just playing the same character he always does — one of the first things Max says to Charlie: “I’m the guy who showed you your first pair of tits!” Points for anyone who guessed that said “tits” were attached to Max’s mom.
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Anyway, Max may not have the most refined sense of humor, but his heart seems to be in the right place, and he feels for his friend. “Let Maxi-Pad soak up your pain,” he says. So Max invites Charlie down to Florida or something, where the two sail on a yacht called “Fish ‘N’ Chicks” and Max shoots a flare at a boat of pretty girls when they groan at the sight of Charlie’s exposed penis. That’s the thing about women: The ones that will have sex with you just want your money, and the ones who won’t deserve to have fireworks launched at their bodies. This is the movie that people complaining about the female-fronted “Ghostbusters” reboot have been waiting for.
So at this point you’re probably thinking: “Okay, but isn’t it only a matter of time before Max roofies Charlie, ties him to a motel bed, and explodes the S.S. Fish ‘N’ Chicks so they can fake their own deaths and get a chance to become the men they’ve always wanted to be?” It is! Initially, Charlie isn’t psyched to be forced into all that, but he can’t deny that it works for him, especially once he spies on his sparsely attended funeral and later finds his wife pegging her ex-husband.
Meanwhile, Max finds a safety deposit box key lodged up the butt of one of the two corpses he planted in the boat explosion. Yadda yadda yadda, our heroes are living it up in Puerto Rico where they’ve come into a ton of money, assumed the names (and piercings) of the dead guys, and moved into a mansion. Will Max and Charlie be able to lie low and safely indulge in three-ways with Luis Guzman, or will the feds figure it out and force them back to their humdrum lives?
If only that were the film’s main dramatic question. It turns out that Butch Ryder and Dr. Ronnie Fishman — Max and Charlie’s respective new identities — were involved in some very serious business. During the first half of “The Do-Over,” it seems as though Sandler has embraced the fact that Netflix has hired him to take four paid vacations; these movies don’t need to cure cancer. And then, halfway through, this movie literally becomes about finding the cure for cancer, metastasizing into a half-assed pharmaceutical thriller that grows more convoluted by the second and eventually snowballs together more story than entire seasons of most Netflix series.
Neither of the film’s credited writers (Kevin Barnett and Chris Pappas) have written a Sandler vehicle before, and while that may be evident in the film’s curlicue narrative, their script is rife with all of Sandler’s usual shtick: Vulgar old people, a weaponized megaton of gay panic, and some more gay panic sprinkled along the top for good measure. If you’ve ever wanted to see a movie that combined the logic of “The Maltese Falcon” with the humor of a deleted scene from “There’s Something About Mary,” you’ve come to the right place. As with most Sandler movies, “The Do-Over” feels like it was shot from a first draft, and the narcotized David Spade voiceover that’s used to pave over the plot holes only makes things worse.
Of course, as with most Sandler movies, “The Do-Over” bottoms out when its hero(es) eventually find their inner strength and take control over their lives. Here, that noxious twist of the knife is marked with one of Sandler’s most half-assed swerves towards sentimentality, and also a scene in which Spade gets into a knockdown fight with a girl while yelling, “I’m so tired of women lying to me and fucking me over!” So are we.
“The Do-Over” is atrocious, but it’s atrocious in different ways than any of Adam Sandler’s previous comedies. Of course, it’s also atrocious in many of the same ways that Sandler’s comedies always have been, but you have to respect the fact that — more than two decades since “Billy Madison” minted Sandler as a leading man — this restless innovator is still finding new methods of making bad movies. For years, we’ve been asking Adam Sandler to try harder. We’ve been making a huge mistake.
“The Do-Over” is now streaming on Netflix.