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‘Billy Madison’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 11, 1995


Tamra Davis
Adam Sandlar;
Darren McGavin;
Theresa Merritt;
Brad Whitford;
Bridgette Wilson
cursing and sexual innuendo

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Compared with such screen kindred as "Dumb and Dumber," Adam Sandler's "Billy Madison" has the makings of a Rhodes scholar. Billy may have an IQ lower than a dachshund's belly, but he has, at least, responded positively to toilet training. That's not to say that this moronic movie is altogether free of comedic mishaps involving the lower gastrointestinal tract.

Billy, a creation of Sandler and co-writer Tim Herlihy, is the wastrel son of an indulgent hotelier (Darren McGavin). Still playing the poor little rich kid at 27, Billy recalls a coarser version of Dudley Moore's infantile alcoholic "Arthur," with a Jerry Lewis haircut and two jerky friends. He's cared for by Juanita (Theresa Merritt), an obese housekeeper who seems shamelessly patterned on Miss Scarlett's Mammy.

An only child, Billy expects to inherit control of the billion-dollar Madison Hotel chain, but his father threatens to hand the reins over to ruthless vice president Eric (Brad Whitford). But at the last minute, Billy comes up with a bet: If he goes back to school and passes all 12 grades in 24 weeks, he gets the company. If he fails, the malevolent Eric takes over.

In first grade, he uses his superior strength to beat the little kids at dodge ball but mellows during story hour. In third grade, he falls in love with Miss Vaughan (Bridgette Wilson), who inspires him to finish elementary school in record time. He lands in trouble, alas, when he is pegged for a loser in high school. But Billy isn't about to give up now that he has mastered nap time.

Sandler, the latest spawn of "Saturday Night Live," is a sweeter, milder version of Jim Carrey's uber doofus, just as "Billy Madison" is a more kid-friendly version of "Dumb and Dumber." And there's even a moral: "Yahoo for education," though the movie doesn't really put any muscle behind it. As one character tells Billy in the finale: "Everyone in this room is dumber for having listened to you."

Given the sludge that the studios are serving up these days, maybe it's for the best.

"Billy Madison" is rated PG-13 for cursing and sexual innuendo.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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