Adam Sandler has made some bad movies, but none have been as sleazy and wretched as “That’s My Boy.” The comedy opens by making light of statutory rape and closes with incest gags. It is aggressively vulgar, unrepentantly juvenile and astoundingly insipid.
It’s very possible that the “Hangover” crew looked at this script, rolled their eyes and said “oh grow up” before handing it to Sandler’s co-conspirators at Happy Madison Productions, the team that gifted the world with “Bucky Larson,” “Jack and Jill” and “Joe Dirt.”
Donny Burger (Sandler) makes Joe Dirt look like Don Draper. With a beer constantly in hand, what looks like two weeks’ worth of stubble on his face and a voice that sounds like a drowning cat, Donny may be the most unlikable, grating character the comedian’s ever created. A man living off the fame of his high school dalliance with a teacher, Donny’s long since cashed in the money he earned from book and movie deals and is reduced to betting on obese marathon contestants and begging for money from his old friend Vanilla Ice.
The product of Donny’s illicit affair, played by “Saturday Night Live’s” Andy Samberg, distanced himself from Donny long ago. He’s changed his name from Han Solo Burger to Tom Peterson, lost 400 pounds and is a wildly successful financial whiz preparing to marry a beautiful girl (Leighton Meester). Donny, reading about Tom’s wedding in the newspaper, realizes a quick way to get money and heads out to reunite with his son.
Hilarity does not ensue.
It’s easy to pile on Sandler, and many critics like to, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the actor. It helps that I grew up watching him on “SNL,” laughed at his comedy albums and enjoyed his earlier fare like “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore” and “The Wedding Singer.” He’s a likable guy and, when paired with the right directors, has proven himself a fine actor in films like “Punch Drunk Love” and “Funny People.”
But too often, Sandler heads back to his friends at Happy Madison, where he cranks out stale comedies with diminishing returns. He was accused of sleepwalking through last year’s “Just Go With It,” and the less said about “Jack and Jill,” the happier we’ll all be. The films are derivative, recycling old gags and depend on Sandler and a group of D-list comedian pals to speak in funny voices and participate in wacky shenanigans.
Even in some of the dumbest movies, Sandler’s usually saved by his affable, nice-guy persona; he’s the class cut-up who just wants everyone to have a good time. But with Burger, Sandler throws any likeability out the window. Donny’s boorish and crass, and his bad-boy behavior is more annoying than endearing.
Sandler shows a great deal of gusto in making the R-rated film as filthy as possible, which he might take as a compliment. There’s not a dirty joke the movie leaves untouched and when the movie runs out of ideas (which is early on), it tries to milk humor from Donny’s gross demands during a massage, his drunken antics with Vanilla Ice or the way everyone in Tom’s rich friend crowd begins to love the lout. The problem is that every character is played as a cartoon, the film never dials down the volume and the gross-out gags are juvenile.
The film tries to have fun with the idea of a young boy’s affair with his teacher making him a celebrity to all his friends—but director Sean Anders has no satirical talent and the film quickly becomes awkward and icky as he tries to make an ill-advised statutory rape sex comedy—a combination that is gross, unfunny and offensive. It goes downhill from there as jokes about overweight strippers, nymphomaniac grannies, drug-addicted child stars and psychotic Marines are tossed into the mix to keep things interesting. But instead of feeling unhinged, wild and funny, it’s akin to listening to a group of middle school boys tell dirty jokes in the back of the bus for two hours.
The film’s supposed to be the cinematic coming out party for Samberg, who rose to fame for “SNL’s” digital shorts, but Sandler is so aggressively loud that he overpowers the actor, who spends most of the movie looking exasperated. Meester never registers as Tom’s love interest. Somehow, James Caan, Tony Orlando and Susan Sarandon all find themselves stranded in this mess, and the only thing I can think to say is that they need to be having some serious, sad talks with their agents if this is the type of work available for them.
The only bright spots are “Heroes’” Milo Ventamiglia as a Marine with some anger issues, Will Forte as a prissy best man and Vanilla Ice, who puts more effort into spoofing his image than anyone puts anywhere else in this film. And if Vanilla Ice is the best thing in your movie, you’re doing something wrong.
“That’s My Boy” is a nadir in Sandler’s career—and that’s not a good thing, seeing as I thought he’d hit his lowest points several times already. It’s raunchy, vulgar and dumb without the benefit of ever being funny. It’s a film that will only appeal to 13-year-old boys, is being marketed toward 17-year olds and should be seen by no one.
Originally published at the Source Newspapers.