As alleged harbingers of the apocalypse go, Adam Sandler hardly seems
worth the consternation. Sure, he's a comedian with a routine based
primarily on silly voices, screaming, and the broadest of broad humor.
He's also just the latest in a long tradition of anarchic adolescent
doofus humor, a tradition with forebears like the Three Stooges, Jerry
Lewis, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. A clown doing poo-poo jokes can
still be a pretty entertaining clown, which Sandler has done with sporadic
effectiveness in his previous films.
In BIG DADDY, Sandler wants to be one of those laughing on the
outside, crying on the inside clowns, and plugs himself into a
sentimental, irritatingly generic high concept comedy. Sandler plays
Sonny Koufax, a 32-year-old law school graduate who has decided that
laying around living off a big personal injury settlement is better than
practicing law. His irresponsibility is beginning to wear on his
long-time girlfriend (Kristy Swanson), leading Sonny to contemplate a life
change. The opportunity comes when 5-year-old Julian (Dylan and Cole
Sprouse), the heretofore unknown son of Sonny's roommate Kevin (Jon
Stewart) shows up at the door. With Kevin on a business trip in China,
Sonny decides to become Julian's surrogate father, a job he quickly
realizes his more difficult than he anticipated.
And therein the laughs ensue, at least every once in a while.
Sonny's laissez-faire parenting style produces plenty of scenes in which
Julian urinates in some public place, wears outrageous clothes, or repeats
profanities in his cuter-than-cute widdle boy voice. Some are funny, some
are groan-worthy, and some just feel a little icky as a troubled child is
turned into a prop. It's easier to latch on to the funny, however, when
Sandler is the irresponsible id-beast we all know and love -- screaming
out his dismay over missing McDonald's breakfast, eating cereal in front
of the television, slapping newspapers over Julian's wet bed like the boy
was a puppy. Sandler as a long-lost Stooge, a la THE WATERBOY, is where
his mischievous personality works best.
Sandler as a would-be actor, expanding his range with touching
personal relationships and gentle romantic banter, is a huge
miscalculation. His previous attempt at broadening his audience, last
year's THE WEDDING SINGER, was successful because it remained rooted in
silliness and never got excessively mawkish. BIG DADDY is the very
epitome of mawkishness, full of cutesy-pie chats with love interest Joey
Lauren Adams and sad-eyed father/son moments, all set to Teddy
Castellucci's syrupy string score. Worse yet, it's a film into which any
one of several dozen actors could have been plugged with no change. It's
a film in which the gags are just impediments to the protagonist learning
his Important Life Lesson. Sandler, with his smirky grin and schoolyard
hostility, always looks like he'd rather be learning how to play a
There are a few nice comic touches in BIG DADDY, from Steve Buscemi's
turn as an oddball homeless guy to a perfect faux-Barney kiddie video.
There are also plenty of irritating touches, like Rob Schneider's
indiscriminately Middle Eastern delivery guy and the
pound-it-into-the-ground references to Hooters. BIG DADDY is the sort of
film where it becomes easy to pick on lazy inconsistencies like a
televised NHL game announced as "crucial to the standings" despite the
fact that the film takes place in October, the first month of the NHL
season. If Sandler worried about keeping us laughing, and understood
he's more fun to watch when he is a child than when he has one, there
wouldn't be enough time to get bogged down in the cheap emotions or sloppy
writing. Maybe some day he'll realize how much better off he is in the
HAPPY GILMOREs of his career, when the French get around to labeling him
a comic genius.
On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 daddy-oh-no's: 4
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