If one measures the new Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg comedy That's My Boy against all other movies -- even the movies currently playing in theaters -- it's pretty terrible. If one measures it against every other Adam Sandler comedy of the last 10 years, it's not the worst. This, it would seem, is a step in the right direction.
Sandler once again stars as a man-child clinging to his arrested adolescence. This time, he's Donny Berger, a loudmouthed Bostonian who once enjoyed 15 minutes of fame when he impregnated his high school teacher as a 12-year old. Now, his son has grown up into Andy Samberg, a successful banker who changed his name (from "Han Solo Berger" to "Todd Peterson") and wants nothing to do with his father, who he blames for the countless number of issues he has from childhood. When Donny faces a prison sentence for not paying his taxes, he looks to reconnect with Todd and score a big payday for a televised reunion on a sleazy talk show. Trouble is, Todd wants nothing to do with his dad and is actually getting ready to walk down the aisle with his girlfriend, Jamie (Leighton Meester), in a huge, fancy wedding with all her family present. What could possibly go wrong when Donny re-enters the picture? Hint: it involves alcohol, strippers, drugs, incest and Vanilla Ice.
Though Sandler typically works with the same behind-the-scenes personnel (among them Steve Brill and Dennis Dugan), That's My Boy represents a change of pace -- it's his first collaboration with both the screenwriter (David Caspe) and the director (Sean Anders, a writer of movies like She's Out of My League and Hot Tub Time Machine). And, yet, Sandler being Sandler, the movie still winds up looking and feeling like every other comedy he's ever made. All of the signposts of an "Adam Sandler comedy" are present: the '80s music, cameos, stupid physical comedy, the use of elderly and overweight people to score cheap, easy laughs -- even the rhythm of the editing, which too often holds for laughs that aren't there. He's the Comedy Star as Auteur.
The big selling point of That's My Boy is that it represents Sandler's first attempt at hard R-rated comedy (his past R-rated efforts, like Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People, aren't really "Sandler" projects). There is little reason for this beyond the fact that movies like The Hangover and Bridesmaids have proven that there is money to be made with raunchy comedy. It's actually a little bit hypocritical, seeing has how raunchy and dirty-minded Sandler's PG-13 comedies have always been; they tiptoe as close as possible to the R-rated line and then back off just enough to be considered "family" movies. Ultimately, the R rating just means lots of swearing, bad behavior and tastelessness. This is a movie that wants the audience to laugh at things that are not funny, like incest. And rape. In fact, in this movie, characters cheer for rape.
Both Sandler and Samberg are capable of being funny, and have both made good comedies in the past. But the actors are funny in different ways, and their styles do not mesh. What happens is that Samberg is left with a character that's just whining and neuroses (and rarely funny, if ever), getting steamrolled by Sandler, who has precisely two modes on film: he plays either the dull straight man (Grown Ups, Just Go With It) or the cartoonish character that's so over-the-top it's too much character (Little Nicky, The Waterboy). In That's My Boy is adopt a thick Boston accent and swear a lot; he's basically just doing "Toll Booth Willy" from his 1993 comedy album, They're All Gonna Laugh At You, just like The Waterboy was his "Excited Southerner" character, and like Jill from Jack and Jill was his "Do It for Momma!" character. I guess we can look forward to several more movies in which Sandler returns to characters and voices he created 20 years ago.
The fact that That's My Boy does offer a few laughs (several of which are courtesy of Vanilla Ice) puts it a spot above his last three or four movies. Sure, that's not saying much -- this new kind of poison doesn't taste as bad as the old kind -- but it's the best the movie can do. These days, it seems like the best Sandler can do, too.
- That's My Boy is rated R for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use.
- Release Date: 6/15/12
- Running Time: 114 minutes
- Studio: Sony