That's My BoyReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/15/12 13:21:12
As I walked into the theater for the screening of the new Adam Sandler epic "That's My Boy," it was admittedly not with a light heart or the greatest sense of possible optimism. After all, the guy has been responsible for some of the worst comedies to emerge over the last few years and while they are still successful enough to ensure that studios will be vying for his services for the immediate future, even his biggest fans have come away from such recent works as "Just Go With It" and "Jack & Jill" thinking that he could have tried to put just a little more effort into his efforts. That said, I could at least comfort myself in the knowledge that no matter how awful it might turn out to be, the odds that it could possibly be worse than the weekend's other big release, the abysmal "Rock of Ages," seemed so slight as to hardly even warrant contemplating. That said, right from the opening frames (scored, in a terrifying coincidence, to Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages"), "That's My Boy" gives that film, not to mention virtually every other bad movie of recent vintage, a run for its money on the craptacular scale and if it doesn't top that one in terms of sheer loathsomeness, it comes way too close to that dubious achievement for comfort.Those opening frames, set in 1984, chronicle the hilarity that ensues when smart-assed 13-year-old punk kid Donny Berger is seduced by his math teacher (Eva Amurri Martino) in a series of assignations that eventually lead to them getting caught and her being sent off to prison carrying the child that is the result of their foul union. (After all, nothing says "high-concept summer comedy" quite like "wacky statutory rape," right?) Inexplicably, a wacky judge grants custody of the child to Donny and the whole sordid affair somehow makes him into a cultural icon on the level of Milli Vanilli and at least one of the Coreys. This is great for Donny but much less so for his son, who responds to years of half-assed parenting (starting with being named Han Solo Berger) by leaving home the moment he turns 18 and severing all ties with dear old dad. Cut to present day, when Donny (Sandler), who has pissed away the vast fortunes that he apparently earned for his ignominy over the years, learns that unless he raises $43,000 in less than a week, the IRS is going to throw him in jail for failing to pay taxes. In desperation, he pitches a reality show host (Dan Patrick. . .yes, Dan Patrick) on the idea of doing a show featuring a reunion between him and his still-imprisoned former flame. Proving that the film is a fantasy once and for all, the host offers to pay Donny $50,000 for the show that is contingent on the kid being a part of the festivities as well.
At this point, even the dullest of moviegoers will be questioning the logic of what they are seeing but while that is happening, Donny discovers that the fruit of his fetid loins (Andy Samberg) has changed his name to Todd, is a wildly successful financial whiz set to score a promotion from his boss (Tony Orlando. . .yes, Tony Orlando) and who is about to get married to the lovely and seemingly perfect (so we all know what that means) Jane (Leighton Meester) that very weekend. Naturally, Donny arrives but since Todd has long claimed that both his parents passed away when he was just a child, Donny--who has appeared with trash-bag luggage, a beer in his hand and a vulgarity for everyone he encounters--is passed off as Todd's long-lost best friend to his fiancee, her family and his boss. Bafflingly, not only do they believe this story but everyone is somehow charmed and amused by Donny's antics, even after they discover that he is that Donny Berger, while everything Todd does seems to blow up in his face. Nevertheless, father and son begin to bond until Todd discovers the real reason behind Donny's sudden reappearance and once again wants nothing to do with his dad. Inevitably, it falls to Donny to put his selfishness aside and do something selfless as the result of a plot development so crass, so icky and so downright repellent that it appears to have been included into the mix solely to make the whole statutory rape thing seem more whimsical and palatable by comparison.
With its sleazo premise and a comedic approach that veers between laziness and outright contempt, "That's My Boy" feels more like one of those Z-level atrocities like "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" that Sandler produces through his Happy Madison company for his pals to star in rather than a full-fledged vehicle of his own. This is bad enough as is but what is exceptionally shocking about the gorge-inducing material is that the screenplay is credited to David Caspe, who is better known as the creator of "Happy Endings," arguably the funniest sitcom currently on television (or at least the funniest without the word "Community" in the title). How to reconcile the fact that the same person responsible for a show that funny could also be connected with something as awful as this? Well, it isn't unheard of (Larry David is responsible for two classic TV comedies of his own but when he took his shot at big-screen immortality, the end result was the repellent "Sour Grapes") but to give Caspe the benefit of the doubt (and "Happy Endings" earns him a lifetime pass as far as I am concerned), my guess is that once the screenplay fell into Sandler's hands, he and his usual gang of idiots decided to improve it along their typical lines and director Sean Anders--a newcomer to the Happy Madison fold whose previous film was the smutfest "Sex Drive"--presumably decided to go along with their decisions in exchange for getting his name onto a seemingly surefire summer hit.
The end result certainly has all the hallmarks of a typical Sandler joint--obnoxious and deeply unlikable central characters who are meant to be the heroes, jokes that drink deeply from the troughs of racism, homophobia and unflinching misogyny, a soundtrack pounding with clunky frat rock hits from the 80's and, most ghastly of all, a climactic sequence in which our hateful hero busts out with a heart-tugging speech of such rank sentimentality that it wouldn't seem out during the later hours of a lesser telethon--and it goes through these motions with a minimum of ingenuity or wit. The only difference this time is that Sandler & Co. decided to eschew their usual PG-13 levels of crudity by pulling out all the stops in order to secure an R rating. However, instead of stretching the bounds of what they can do, they merely offer up the usual jokes involving vomiting, masturbation, bizarre sexuality, defecation, vulgar language and the like in more graphic detail than usual. Now I am willing to concede that these elements could inspire laughs when handled in the proper way but as deployed here, the jokes are so grisly that if anyone sitting near you in the theater begins laughing at them, you should probably change seats immediately as it suggests a basic lack of simple dignity or decorum that could erupt in other unsavory ways before the film ends.
Like many Happy Madison projects of late, "That's My Boy" has somehow managed to recruit an eclectic array of performers willing to defile their good names for reasons known only to them. Therefore, it doesn't come as a surprise to discover that the supporting cast includes the likes of familiar faces like Tony Orlando and James Caan, pop-culture punchlines like Vanilla Ice (as himself), Todd Bridges (ditto), what seems like half the on-air talent from any given broadcast day on ESPN and, following in the footsteps of Nicole Kidman and Al Pacino, a genuine Oscar-winning performer in the form of Susan Sarandon. What does come as a surprise is that of the bunch, it is Vanilla Ice who comes off the best, perhaps because he is no stranger to public humiliation and is better able to navigate the mucky waters on display than the others. As for the main players, Sandler is more obnoxious than he has been in years and while I understand that his character is supposed to be that way, he fails to leaven that by ever being funny in even the slightest. (The wacky voice he has chosen to go with her is so off-putting that you will be praying for the theater sound system to go on the fritz.) By comparison, Samberg is a little more friendly and likable than usual but doesn't get much of anything to do. As for Leighton Meester, whom dedicated readers know I adore for her work on "Gossip Girl," I am at an absolute loss as to what could have induced her to sign on to do what she is asked to do here in the name of komedy. There is one scene in particular that she gets to do that is so far beyond the barriers of good or bad taste (suffice it to say, even John Waters might find it a bit much) that it borders on outright sadism, and I think we know how funny that can be. Put it this way--if next weekend saw the official release of both that alleged sex tape that she supposedly appeared in a few years ago and the director's cut of "The Roommate," that double-bill would be infinitely less embarrassing than this film."That's My Boy" is the absolute pits--the closest thing it comes to a subtle touch is not having Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" on the soundtrack--and the only thing keeping me from deeming it the absolute nadir of Adam Sandler's screen career is that I don't feel like flipping through his filmography to see if anything worse immediately leaps out. Scuzzy, stupid and completely lacking in any form of ambition (aside from the ambition of filling viewers with equal parts nausea and seething hatred), this is the kind of slob slop that will give even his most dedicated fans further pause. The shame of it, as has been noted before, is that Sandler is capable of doing better work than this when challenged to do so by people unwilling to let him simply coast his way to an easy paycheck. Alas, if he keeps up doing crap like this--the kind of monstrosity that even a famed contrarian like Armond White might find a challenge to embrace--no one is going to care anymore and he runs the risk of winding up as much of a washout as the character he plays here. For all our sakes, let us hope that he has remembered to keep up with his taxes.
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