‘That’s My Boy’: Adam Sandler doesn’t know best
By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, June 15, 2012
It’s tempting to call Adam Sandler a rebel. The comedian consistently flouts taste and decency in his movies, which can sometimes be a good thing.
The only problem with this notion is that rebels, at some point, usually break a sweat. Sandler’s latest vehicle, “That’s My Boy,” is radical only in its extreme laziness.
The actor plays Donny, a man trying to reconcile with his estranged son, Todd (Andy Samberg), whom he fathered with his middle-school teacher as a 13-year-old stud. Sandler attempts to mine this disturbing event for comedy, but he also goes after some pretty low-hanging fruit: fat people, the elderly, immigrants, washed-up celebrities, horndogs and others. Its technique (to use the word in the loosest possible sense) is a blunt instrument. Much of the comedy derives from sex, nudity, bodily fluids and four-letter words -- a focus so single-minded that the script sometimes seems to have been written by a 13-year-old.
It wasn’t, though writer David Caspe gives no indication of the level of sparkling wit he is capable of (the crass sitcom “Happy Endings,” which he created). Donny’s halting, seemingly improvised on-screen speech about love -- in which he describes the emotion in such a way that it sounds like the symptoms of a venereal disease -- is one of many low points in the dialogue. As far as the direction is concerned, Sean Anders (“Sex Drive”) seems perfectly adept at turning the camera and lights on and off, but little else. The film is long, choppy and deadly dull, despite sporadic efforts to defibrillate the audience back to consciousness with jokes about incest, pedophilia, incontinence and geriatric sex.
For his part, Sandler seems out to top his performance in last year’s “Jack and Jill,” which garnered the comic not one but two Razzie Awards (for worst actor and worst actress). Sporting a mullet wig that looks left over from “The Wedding Singer” and recycling his trademark accent -- an annoying hybrid of brain-damaged redneck and dirty old man -- he packs enough painful screen presence for three people.
Samberg, whose role is essentially as straight man, is inoffensive but forgettable as a bridegroom who is mortified when his boorish old man shows up on the eve of his wedding to a wealthy heiress (Leighton Meester). There’s no evidence of the comic chops he has displayed on “Saturday Night Live.” Todd is little more than a victim of Donny’s humiliating behavior.
Once again, Sandler shows himself to be a loyal friend, casting such pals as Nick Swardson and Peter Dante in tiny parts that drain all evidence of talent from the performers. “That’s My Boy” also features such has-beens as rapper Vanilla Ice, singer Tony Orlando, veejay Colin Quinn and actors Ian Ziering, Alan Thicke and Todd Bridges, along with fellow “SNL” veterans Will Forte and Rachel Dratch, miscellaneous Sandler family relatives, vaguely familiar-looking former jocks and other assorted hangers-on from the comedian’s stand-up days.
Sandler’s Happy Madison production company is like a one-man employment agency for people who have no other reason to be on camera. Of that bunch, Vanilla Ice, playing a good-natured caricature of himself, turns in the funniest performance, although it’s far from professional.
So is the movie itself funny? Some people -- including me -- managed to appreciate a dumb joke or two. Sandler has his partisans, but the aggressive awfulness of “That’s My Boy” seems calculated to test even their patience. As one disgruntled-sounding viewer muttered on the way out, “Sure, I laughed, but I didn’t feel good about myself afterwards.”
Contains pervasive vulgarity, sexual humor, nudity, drug use and some comic violence.