It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a genuinely good Adam Sandler movie. Not that they have ever been critically praised, but even if you weren’t a hardcore fan, you understood the appeal of them. They were silly, spontaneous, and over-the-top films, and although they never appealed to everyone, Sandler and his production company, Happy Madison, still put much effort in setting up juvenile but humorous jokes and gags. Though after the box office failure of Funny People, Sandler became lazy and started going for cheap laughs instead, such as the endless pratfalls and unimaginative toilet humor seen in Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, and so on. It didn’t seem like Sandler would ever go back to his roots, but when his next production, That’s My Boy, would aim for a hard R rating this time around and hire Sean Anders, who is known for his work on many R-rated comedies like Sex Drive and Hot Tub Time Machine, as director, he seemed to be on the right track. Then, trailers were released, and unfortunately, it didn’t seem like a huge step up from his recent movies. Though I still had faith in this project, as I do enjoy Sandler as a comedian, and I was glad he was trying something different, hoping that he would return to form. So, now the big question is, did he? Well, it’s way better than anything he has released in the last two years, but that’s not saying much.
In That’s My Boy, Adam Sandler plays Donny Berger, a man who became famous as a kid back in the 80s for having sex and then impregnating his teacher. As she went to jail, Donny became a cultural phenomenon, while struggling to raise their son, Han Solo Berger (cue laughter). Forward into the present, Donny is a low-life loser who learns he is in debt with the IRS, and the only way to get such money is to bring back his relevancy into pop culture by broadcasting a family reunion on TV. Problem is, though, his son, played by Andy Samberg, is now Todd Peterson, a thriving businessman who has completely erased his father from his life and is about to marry his lovely wife, played by Leighton Meester. Todd’s wedding plans fall apart when Donny drops by to say hello, and eventually ends up staying with his son throughout the weekend leading up to the wedding. Donny plans to become close with his son again, in hope that by the end of it all, he would join him in this reunion or maybe just give him the money himself. I think it’s a fun plot with a lot of potential, and the pairing of Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg is hilarious, but here’s the problem. Since the movie is rated R, the movie has the option to tell dirty and raunchy jokes, and Happy Madison is known for doing that, although within the restrictions of a PG-13. This movie goes all out, but just because someone drops an F-bomb doesn’t make it funny. A lot of these jokes just seem like gross-out scenes for the sake of being gross. For example, there’s a masturbation running joke in the movie, and although there are some funny things about it, it serves no purpose to the movie, as there is no lead-up to it. The movie also tries to keep pushing its limits in hoping that it would get more laughs than what a joke initially got, but it comes off as unnatural of the characters to be doing such things (yes, even in an Adam Sandler movie). I like what the movie wants to do with its R rating, but it is handled way too immaturely, and not in the sense that raunchy humor is immature, but in the way that the jokes come off as either predictable or unnecessary.
So, what about Adam Sandler? Is he at the top of his game here? Well, I think Sandler is trying really hard to channel the old him, but the character of Donny Berger doesn’t feel completely fresh, and yes, he speaks in an annoying voice throughout the whole film. In an Adam Sandler movie, you either relate to his character or he’s an absolute cartoon; Donny is right in the middle, and the bad thing about this is that when the movie expects you to feel emotional for Donny, it doesn’t quite work. The father-son dynamic would have worked better if there was more humanity to him, and with that being said, Andy Samberg did a great job with what he was given. He unfortunately wasn’t in a crazy role as he usually is, but he is definitely a character you feel for in this movie, and his personality, as a result of poor fatherhood, got some laughs out of me. The supporting cast also took the material as well as they could, but the highlights out of all them are easily Will Forte (who seriously needs to be given a starring role again, poor guy) and Vanilla Ice, in the surprisingly hilarious role as a fictionalized version of himself that happens to be the son of Donny’s teacher. Overall, the cast is funny, if only the script was stronger. I remember seeing on Wikipedia that David Wain and Ken Marino were attached to writing this film, but then it was completely changed to some guy named David Caspe, who is the creator of the show, Happy Endings. I’ve never seen the show, but it made me wonder how much creative control he had over the film in comparison to Adam Sandler. Sandler has been known for writing his movies, and even when he doesn’t, it still seems like he did. As I’ve said, Sandler does his best to recapture what his old films did, but with his lack of experience of doing R-rated movies, the poorly written jokes overshadow the really funny ones. There are recurring gags throughout the film that absolutely SCREAM “Classic Sandler,” only to be followed with something lame. Director Sean Anders knows how to make these jokes seem a lot funnier than they actually were, though, because the audience at my screening was loving it. Or maybe anything with Adam Sandler can make them laugh no mater what.
I know came off extremely negative about the film, and you’re probably thinking I went into this movie wanting to hate it, and that’s not true at all. Adam Sandler is very talented, but it’s been a while since he has really used his comedic ability; this is just a missed opportunity. I definitely laughed a couple of times throughout, but it’s a hit-or-miss movie, and when it misses, it’s completely off. Though since humor is so subjective, and basing off ticket sales, Adam Sandler movies are practically immune to criticism. If you love Adam Sandler movies, including his most recent ones, you’re going to love this no matter what I say. If you are hoping for the epic return of Adam Sandler, it is a real mixed bag, so it will depend on what you want out of it. Andy Samberg fans should just wait for DVD. He’s my favorite part of the movie, but his lack of comedic presence here, in comparison to Sandler’s, is not worth the ticket price. Everyone else that I have not mentioned yet should just skip it.