After 85 minutes of mediocrity, “The Week Of” finally lands on one inspired bit, and then there’s another half hour to go. Long Island family man Kenny Lustig (Adam Sandler), joined by his wife (Rachel Dratch) and kooky brother (Steve Buscemi) attempt to sabotage town hall by capturing a bunch of bats and unleashing them into the building’s chimney in the middle of the night. It doesn’t really matter how, or why, this scheme comes together — the out-of-nowhere cartoonishness speaks for itself, and stands out in a sea of mediocrity in yet another half-hearted Sandler project for Netflix that underserves the wealth of talent involved.
If that cast doesn’t hook you, Netflix has more bait: “The Week Of” also features Chris Rock, another recent addition to the Netflix Cinematic Universe (NCU) with his far more endearing standup special “Tambourine.” In that one-hour set, Rock lands more effective jokes about grappling with fatherhood in middle age than “The Week Of” musters in twice the running time, but this algorithm-mandated comedy doesn’t even aspire to make its jokes land. It just kind of dangles there, like the weird half-hearted echo of a movie you’ve seen before.
Rock — who seems to resist rolling his eyes in every scene — plays Dr. Kirby Cordice, a high-rolling Manhattan surgeon whose son Tyler (Roland Buck III, barely a character) is set to marry Kenny’s daughter Sarah (Allison Strong, ditto). As the families converge in Long Island for a chaotic weekend, Kenny scrambles to cobble together resources for the celebration. He makes an ill-conceived attempt to arrange a fancy party at the local budget motel with leaky floors and a bizarre, giggly hotel manager. Kenny evades bickering with his wife (we often hear Sandler and Dratch yelling at each other off camera while the rest of the family ignores them in another room; another theoretically funny routine that never crystallizes), and resists the wealthy Kirby’s offers to pay for the wedding.
In the meantime, he must contend with his senile WWII vet uncle Seymour (Jim Barone), who lost his legs and must be carted around town like a bag of potatoes. The grimacing character feels like a rejected gag from a Sandler movie 20 years ago, one of many elements that seem to pad “The Week Of” to its arbitrary length.
There are bachelor and bachelorette parties that go horribly wrong, a creepy next-door neighbor obsessed with the bride, and a softball game in which Kenny’s adolescent son gets a boost of confidence from the huge crowd of relatives that turn out from both sides of the family. That last one’s almost moving in a silly, affable sort of way, like a faint glimmer of the Sandlerian dad movie that might have been. Unfortunately, like the lesson that the clingy Kenny receives about his daughter’s adulthood, nothing in “The Week Of” lasts too long.
Never mind that the movie marks the feature-length directorial debut of the great Robert Smigel, best known for “Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog,” though he also wrote 2008’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” one of the last great zany Sandler comedies. Smigel doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera, or how to juggle all the moving pieces in the bland script he wrote with Sandler, and it’s puzzling why this pair would even bother with such well-trod terrain. They don’t seem to understand the fundamental hilarity of the underlying conceit — what might happen when bitchy, neurotic Long Island Jews spend an awkward weekend with an African-American family from out of town — so they just leave the most fertile comedic terrain alone, perhaps because it’s such a political hot potato for a toothless movie allergic to creative risks.
Through it all, the 51-year-old Sandler wears his salt-and-pepper look as if hoping to plot a roadmap for the anxious nebbishes he played in the ’90s to reach middle age. As last year’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” proved — like “Punch Drunk Love” before it — Sandler’s strengths find a natural vessel in other filmmaker’s visions. Time and again, he’s his own worst enemy.
Yet the movie still hints that some small aspect of the loony persona that made him a star is hiding in plain sight. For a few seconds in a tape played near the end of “The Week Of,” he surfaces in drag singing ”When I Fall in Love,” and it’s exactly that sort of bizarre swing that the rest of the movie lacks. At least there’s bats.
The credits roll over a scene with Rock and Sandler bantering on the porch, and it easily surpasses most of the movie preceding it. Considering the malleable standards applied to Sandler’s Netflix titles, it’s easy to imagine another project for the platform in which the actors just sit and talk for two hours, while the world listens. They both have plenty to say. They just need a better vessel to say it.
“The Week Of” is now streaming on Netflix.