With Father’s Day fast approaching, what better time to celebrate the firm, guiding hand of the man who once taught you how tie a Windsor knot, light a campfire and masturbate to pictures of your grandmother, leaving the used Kleenex for her to clean up? Or at least that’s what Sony Pictures apparently believes, as it unleashes the latest Adam Sandler offering on American filmgoers this weekend.
In his new movie, That’s My Boy, Sandler plays Donny Berger, a young boy who has an affair with his teacher in middle school and produces a child who, when he grows up and is played by Andy Samberg, gets the hell out of Dad’s house at his first opportunity. Sandler, of course, has taken a shot at big-screen fatherhood before. You may remember him being an endearing, less-than-fit parent in his 1999 film, Big Daddy. Will giving him an older son make us like him as a father figure even more? Or will we miss the young Sprouse brothers who held onto our hearts when they shared the role as the cute boy in Big Daddy?
This Smackdown will answer that father of all questions and maybe bring a tear to your eye. So sit back, grab a Kleenex – no, check that; better just read the Smack.
Donny Berger finds himself in every boy’s dream, having an affair with his hot teacher. After they are exposed in front of the entire school during an election campaign, Mrs. McGarricle is sentenced to thirty years in prison and Donny is left with the product of their affair: a baby boy. Donny strikes it rich when the world’s fascination with his story gets him his own TV show and allows him to become the author of best-selling books. But in the midst of all the craziness, Donny never outgrows being the “cool” fifteen-year-old and forgets to properly raise his illegitimate son, whom he has named Hans Solo.
Flash-forward many years to find Donny, after much Sandleresque, youthful indiscretion, broke and soon to be incarcerated for failure to pay taxes. If he can scrape up $43,000, he may be able to dodge jail. In a last-ditch attempt to benefit from his earlier fifteen minutes of fame, Donny agrees to get his estranged son to the women’s penitentiary where Mrs. McGarricle is housed to shoot a reunion segment for a trashy talk show and make $50,000. Trouble is, Hans Solo long ago had the good sense to change his name to Todd Peterson and flee Donny’s stewardship to become a neurotic but successful businessman.
Donny tracks Todd down just as he is about to marry a stuffy, country-club snob with an obnoxious family. Naturally, Todd (now played by Samberg) isn’t thrilled to see the man who raised him. He introduces him as a friend and is unhappy when the family invites Donny to stay the weekend.
Sonny Koufax (Sandler again) is searching for ways to prove to his girlfriend that he’s ready to be responsible, when responsibility comes knocking in the form of Julian, a five-year-old boy left on Sonny’s doorstep like a Fed Ex package from Hollywood. Julian’s mother is sick with cancer, unable to continue raising him, and his father is Sonny’s roommate, Kevin. In what is perhaps an unintended irony, Sonny agrees to keep Julian around to show his girlfriend how responsible he is, while Kevin is away on business.
Knowing a perennial screw-up when she sees one, Sonny’s girlfriend breaks up with him despite little Julian, leaving no one to help him raise the child. Sonny nevertheless manages to assume his new parenting role with gusto, teaching Julian how to hock a loogie and trip roller-bladers in the park. He even allows him to choose his own name: Frankenstein.
The experience – wouldn’t you know it? – teaches Sonny even more about life than it does Julian, including the lesson that there’s more to being a father than candy and nap times. Then again, the kid was probably smarter than Sonny to begin with.
Big Daddy was regarded as an instant classic by many under the age of thirty (okay, twenty-two) ever since it hit the screens in 1999. Sandler plays a likable slacker forced to come to terms with his own laziness, bad eating habits and love for silly pranks once he becomes a father. Now that this kind of behavior is generally accepted as the norm in society, Sandler has taken the concept of rotten fatherhood to a whole new low. In That’s My Boy, he drinks, uses drugs, sleeps around and masturbates to pictures of his son’s sexy grandma, leaving his mess for her to clean up. And unlike the earlier film, we don’t even have a cute five-year-old to take our minds off the Sandler character’s bad behavior.
In Big Daddy, we grow to love Sonny as he tries his best to become a better man. There are other characters to root for too – the gentle girlfriend, the goofy delivery guy and of course, the innocent young boy. In the new film, Sandler’s Donny is not easy to love. In fact, as a deadbeat, perverted dad, he’s pretty despicable. The sexual grandma, the conniving bride, her raging brother and the neurotic son aren’t much better. I found myself wondering why I should want any of these losers to end up happy.
Graduating (descending?) from Big Daddy’s PG-13 rating to an R for That’s My Boy speaks to the older audience this movie is aiming for, but the question that keeps ringing in my mind is: How low will Sandler go to get a laugh? Child molestation and incest are clearly not off limits. Is the old prank-pulling, fart-joke humor suddenly too high-brow?
Obviously, Sandler’s not looking to win awards for this movie; he’d prefer to nail a few one-liners that will stick in the culture. I did laugh out loud a few times, but out of the 500 joke attempts the film throws at us, a few chuckles just don’t cut it. The movie occasionally breaks from the constant stream of crass humor to force a story line, but that only highlights its uneven pacing. Big Daddy, by contrast, feels more organic.
We see some of our old Sandler movie favorites throughout That’s My Boy: Blake Clark playing the bride’s dad, Rachel Dratch as the wife of a coworker, and the ever-dependable Nick Swardson. The film also features singers Vanilla Ice as Todd’s uncle and Ciara as his newest love interest. While using musical artists may attract curious viewers, the comedy doesn’t flow off the screen quite as well as in Big Daddy, where legendary performers like Josh Mostel, Rob Schneider and Steve Buscemi make some of the new film’s supporting cast seem like the acting newbies they pretty much are. Andy Samberg, costarring as Sandler’s son, was a better piece of casting. Though his character is a bit much to take at times (carrying around extra pairs of underwear and rubbing them when he needs to relax), Samberg holds his own against Sandler and makes many of his lines jump off the screen.
That’s My Boy manages some cheap laughs from raunch-loving viewers who appreciate jokes about masturbation, child-molestation and incest, but Big Daddy is something most of us can watch over and over without feeling the need for a hot shower afterward. When it comes to glorifying bad fathers who make good, Big Daddy continues as reigning champion, a title it also successfully defended in an earlier Smackdown against Click. Now it’s time for Sandler to stop trying to rework his old, successful concept and move onto something more palatable for mass consumption. I’m thinking maybe a different bodily function or maybe some good old religious humor. Suggestion for the next Sandler Smackdown: Big Doody vs. That’s My Goy.