Friday, June 22, 2012

That's My Boy - Theatrical Review


Release Date: June 15, 2012

This is an Adam Sandler movie....that's it. That's my review. I'm done. Buuuuut, if you really want to know more about it then I suppose I can come up with a few more things to say about it. Be warned though because they are not likely to be very kind words.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 10:00 pm March 13, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 43 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: Punch Drunk Love, The Wedding Singer, Spanglish, Reign Over Me
Likes: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Funny People, You Don't Mess with the Zohan
Neutral: Big Daddy, The Waterboy, Anger Management
Hates: Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds, Click, Grown Ups, Bedtime Stories
Adam Sandler's lowest score on RT: 0% for Bucky Larson

Adam Sandler's success is one of those great mysteries that will never be answered. It's easy to understand how he came into fame since there was a time where he made some good movies and was one of the better SNL alumni from that generation. But the further his career went on, the less I found myself all that interested in what he was making. I certainly gave most of it a chance but there was a shift somewhere in the middle of his career where he just seemed to start phoning everything in. My hypothesis for this shift is a matter of artistic control. During the comedian's early days he was basically just trying to get in the door (to this day I can still recall the radio ads with Sandler begging people to go see his first film Billy Madison). Then he got famous and as any self respecting actor/comedian will tell you, with fame comes more control and with more control means less collaboration. In a nut shell, Adam Sandler is at his best when he ISN'T in control and unfortunately he seems to have had way too much control over That's My Boy.

It is the fantasy of every teenage boy to get with their hot teacher but for Donny Berger (Adam Sandler) it is more than just a fantasy, it is a reality. After knocking up his teacher Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), the two love birds get found out and upon his instructor being sent to prison with a 30 year sentence, Donny becomes the proud single parent and father of Han Solo (Andy Samberg). But Donny's inexperience in life and poor parenting practices leads to him and his son having a falling out. Cut to present day where Donny, after spending all his money from being a child celebrity, is flat broke and facing a prison sentence of his own. In desperate need of some quick cash, Donny locates his son who is now a successful business man and engaged to the beautiful Jamie (Leighton Meester). Can Donny and Han put aside their differences and learn to be a family again before it's too late?

Young Donny is about to have his world rocked...repeatedly.

I am going to do something a little different for this one. I am not actually going to be talking too much about the movie itself during this review. Why? Mainly because I really have nothing to say about it beyond stating the obvious. What's obvious you ask? Oh let's see, how about the fact that this is yet another in a long line of Sandler performances where he insists on believing that by simply talking in a funny(?) voice that he automatically becomes funny. Then there is also the expected raunchy humor mixed with some supposedly heartfelt moments where we are expected to get all choked up. Oh and don't forget about the guest appearances by actors(?) whose primary purpose is to be funny simply because of how weird it is to see them in any movie, especially this one.

You see, Adam Sandler movies have become so formulaic and predictable that they are almost their own sub-genre of comedy anymore. When you sit down to watch one of his movies you already know to shut your brain off and forget about seeing anything even remotely unique or intelligent. That's My Boy is actually the perfect example of everything that makes up one of his films, it has everything I listed above and then some. The problem is that most of those formulas were never very good to begin with and when we get to the point we are at now where he is just recycling everything he has done then it really starts to make you think about why you ever found him entertaining in the first place. But that is what I want to talk about most of though. Why are Adam Sandler produced comedies so bad and why do they still have an audience?

That's funny right? Cause he is acting silly and doing faces and making silly sounds...right?

So yes, instead of describing what is essentially the same movie he has been making for years now, I am going to use this space for something a little more constructive, I am going to try and unravel the mystery of Adam Sandler. Now, I am not claiming to have any sort of special insight or life changing revelations about the man, I would just like to throw in my two cents on what I consider to be one of the most baffling careers of any actor from the past decade. Every single time I hear of a new movie that he is going to be in I immediately think to myself, "OK, this is the one that will bomb". Yet that has never happened. He has certainly had movies that didn't do too well but he has never had anything that just flat out bombed (although from what I have heard, That's My Boy could very well be the first).

What is it that makes his films successful? It certainly isn't critical praise (out of his 41 listed films on Rotten Tomatoes, only 5 of them have a fresh rating). I can't imagine people loving the stories either which is usually some tired form of romantic comedy or...uh, raunchy romantic comedy. Everyone likes themselves a rom-com but let's face it, Sandler isn't exactly the type of guy women (and most certainly guys) want to see as the focal point in a movie about relationships. How about his overall personality, perhaps its just his comedic charm that wins everyone over and brings them back time after time. Well, if that were true then I would think his fans would love EVERYTHING he does which clearly isn't the case or else Little Nicky would be universally loved by all of them (which it isn't).

As much as I like him, I just don't think Andy Samberg is gonna catch on.

The only reason I can ever imagine anyone wanting to be subjected to an Adam Sandler comedy consistently enough that they make enough money to keep justifying making more is simply that they are completely and utterly mindless ventures. It's a sort of comfort food for most, something they already know everything about before it is even released. As soon as I see the preview for the latest Adam Sandler movie I automatically know what will happen in it. He will most likely have a romantic interest (50 First Dates, The Wedding Singer), there will be some sort of conflict regarding financial problems or family issues (Chuck & Larry, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Jack & Jill) that will all be resolved by the end but only after we have some random events where those problems get complicated just before they get better. He will also have some sort of funny voice (Zohan, Little Nicky, The Waterboy) or ability (Click, Bedtime Stories) that will grant him a special power to live out a fantasy shared by the general public and finally will learn a life lesson of some sort (Mr. Deeds, Big Daddy). There is something comforting to people about the fact that they already know to expect all that from his films. I see it too, but the difference is that I don't see that as a good thing where as the general public seems to think otherwise.

Not all his movies are that formulaic though. He has ventured out of his comfort zone from time to time with stories centered around a real honest to goodness story and real three dimensional characters with actual depth to them (Spanglish, Reign Over Me, Funny People and Punch Drunk Love). There are some problems though when you look at the different types of films he has made over his career and their varying degrees of success or failure. Nearly all of his more simple minded films (Grown Ups) tend to bring home the bacon but experimental or more down to Earth films such as those just mentioned usual get high critical praise but almost no one sees them. The question is no longer why are most of his films bad and why do they continue to make money, it becomes more about who exactly is the Adam Sandler audience and what do they want from him? I have no idea, all I know is that for some reason if he makes any sort of film where there AREN'T fart jokes, copious amounts of nudity, silly voices and a story so thin that it would make a piece of paper jealous, his fans don't seem to want to support him. They don't want him to find any sort of success outside of his usual schtick. If the Adam Sandler fans would just rally to one of his more meaningful films then perhaps he would make more of them instead of dreck like That's My Boy.

The one funny joke in the movie and it was ruined by the trailer, great.

As I write this I can't help but think of another comedic icon who has had similar issues but has not met with the same success as Sandler. I am of course speaking of Eddie Murphy, a former box office titan who lost his way long ago and will probably never recapture what he lost. While there aren't too many similarities between the two beyond their SNL roots, there is one distinct commonality between them that sticks out like a sore thumb and what I believe to be the root cause of their failings. They both have too much creative freedom over their projects. Murphy has run his career into the ground by having way too much control over his films and Sandler (while profitable) hasn't really done anything worthwhile when it comes to the Happy Madison studio name. Say what you will about letting an artist be free and do what they want but most of the time an artist's true talents only ever come through when faced with adversity and Sandler hasn't had to deal with any adversity for a very long time. Look at all those films I have mentioned, if you notice most, if not all, of the ones that feature his best work are films that he was part of only as an actor. He had no producing role or writing credits for things like Spanglish or Punch Drunk Love. He just let himself be part of something bigger than his ego and whenever he has done that he generally turns in a good performance and a great movie to boot.

Even though Sandler purposefully makes trashy and forgettable comedies like That's My Boy, I can't really blame him though. I hold no ill will towards the guy, I just know he can do better is all. Sure he has the potential to make good if not great movies but his fans just don't want to see that out of him. While the critics applaud him for the risks he has taken, their praises don't come with a monetary value attached to them which leaves him in a horrible conundrum, make good movies or make profitable ones? So unless his fans wake up and discover they would like more from their favorite comedian than just the same awful comedy cliches repackaged and redistributed over and over again, we are all stuck with stuff like Jack & Jill and That's My Boy for the time being. But to go back to my original query for a second, why are Sandler produced comedies so bad and why do they still have an audience? They are bad because that's what he needs to make to stay viable. If he would suddenly start doing what he wants then he will quickly find himself just as relevant as Eddie Murphy which if you're keeping score is a bad thing. As for why they still have an audience...well, I think that just has to do with general movie goers wanting something they don't have to think about. While I find it sad that so many people are willing to settle for such mediocre crap, I can't really judge them because I have my caveats too.

So there you have it, my thoughts on Adam Sandler and his seemingly impossible successful career. The funny thing is that after taking all that time to try and figure everything out, his latest film seems to have broken the cycle and become the biggest flop of his career (even when compared to his art house films). Whether or not that is a sign of things to come (I hope it is but most likely not) is anyones guess but this strange turn of events has given me a reason to be a little more hopeful for general movie goers who are willing to keep a much more deep, complex and amazing movie like Prometheus in the running instead of dropping their hard earned dollars on middle of the road nonsense like That's My Boy. Speaking of that, I suppose I should give at least some sort of summation of what I thought of this latest Sandler comedy. I guess I would say that if you are a fan of Adam Sandler and like what he does then this is probably what you are expecting, no more no less. If that sounds good to you then have it. But if you are a more casual fan of his work like myself and could really give a shit about seeing it or not then just wait for it to hit home video and...




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