That's My Boy
Look, I sorta kinda get the comic appeal of Adam Sandler — at least his early work. Sure, movies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore featured the kind of juvenile jokes and retro stunt cameos that are low hanging fruit for comedy. But they also had a scrappy, energetic, good-natured quality that made it easy to laugh at a brawling Bob Barker or a hallucinogenic penguin. Similarly, Sandler's winking adoration of all things '80s brought with it the unexpected (albeit minor) delight of The Wedding Singer.
Since then, the former SNL star has had a few interesting Hollywood detours, not the least of which was Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love. There, the comic actor showed that he could convincingly carry a leading role with disarming nuance and insight. His penchant for adolescent outbursts was tempered with self-deprecating shame, creating a fascinating friction between impulsive rage and adult regret. You can see flashes of that self-awareness in Funny People (which is half of a great movie) and the remake of The Longest Yard. Even rom-com vehicles such as 50 First Dates benefited from Sandler's kinder, gentler instincts, allowing him to indulge in and mock his comic persona in equal doses.
Lately, however, Sandler seems more than happy to indulge in work that makes everyone dumber for having seen it. Like fellow SNL alum Eddie Murphy, he has squandered his talents on lazy and obvious projects. While Jack and Jill, Click and Bedtime Stories may pull in healthy box office numbers, they also reveal a deep cynicism about what it means to be an entertainer. That's My Boy isn't quite as dire as those recent efforts, but it's still pretty feeble stuff.
For those who feel they need a synopsis: Sandler is Donnie, a mulleted man-child with a scandalous childhood history — at 14 he had an affair and impregnated his junior high math teacher then spent years cashing in on the ensuing celebrity. With his first love (Eva Amuri Martino, then, later played by the actress' mother, Susan Sarandon) serving 30 years in jail, Donnie gained custody of his son, Han Solo, at age 18 and proceeded to be a pretty terrible dad. Flash forward 28 years and Donnie is now a broke slob who faces prison for tax evasion. Needing $40,000 to avoid arrest, he learns that his estranged son (Andy Samburg) is a successful and highly neurotic hedge fund manager named Todd Peterson who is about to be married. Crashing the wedding in hopes that he can convince Todd to participate in a well-paid televised family reunion, Donnie reveals that, despite his crude selfishness, he still has some fatherly instincts in him after all. Aw.
Statutory rape jokes aside, That's My Boy's setup is pretty standard stuff. It's the execution that's a bit different for Sandler. Trying to make the most of his R-rating, the movie strains to achieve the gross-out raunchiness of a Farrelly brothers' flick while delivering just enough sentimentality to justify its existence. The result is a steady barrage of sexual vulgarity, misogyny, '80s references (Pontiac Fieros and cassette tapes are funny!) and Z-level celebrity cameos. From Tony Orlando to Rex Ryan to Todd Bridges, the guest stars range from desperate to deplorable. Only Vanilla Ice, playing himself, manages to come off better than you'd expect. In fact, between Sandler's intermittently whiny-voiced shtick and Samburg's thankless straight-man role, the former rapper may be the best thing in the movie.
I guess if your goal is to spend nearly two (longer than it needs to be) hours guffawing over jokes that would appeal to a horny 12-year-old (an incest gag is probably the movie's cringe-inducing low point), That's My Boy is cinematic manna from heaven. For everyone else, there are a couple of decent laughs to be found amid the repulsive idiocy — and the Van Halen-heavy soundtrack (which oddly neglects "Hot for Teacher") is an unexpected treat.