So much for Adam Sandler, "normal" guy. In The Wedding Singer,
it looked as though Sandler were trying to shrug off the infantile,
silly-voiced persona he took from "Saturday Night Live" to Billy
Madison and Happy Gilmore. While still fairly silly in
its way, The Wedding Singer was a somewhat more mature, somewhat
more clever vehicle for Sandler, his first attempt at actual screen
acting. In The Waterboy, Sandler is once again playing an
infantile, silly-voiced character, the kind of character that strikes
unholy terror in a critic's heart.
While it would be a gross exaggeration to call The Waterboy a
smart film, it's funny in ways I didn't quite expect. Sandler plays
Bobby Boucher, a bayou-bred 31-year-old simpleton who still lives with
his domineering Mama (Kathy Bates) and has been serving as the University
of Louisiana's waterboy for 18 years. When U. of L.'s nasty Coach
Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) finally fires Bobby, the hydrophilic lad hooks
up with the hapless South Central Louisiana State University Mud Dogs,
a Division I doormat led by jittery Coach Klein (Henry Winkler). It's
Coach Klein who unwittingly releases Bobby's inner linebacker when he
encourages Bobby to defend himself against the taunting of team players
and discovers a pure tackling machine. Thus begins the Mud Dogs' most
successful season ever, as Bobby "The Waterboy" Boucher becomes a
national sensation, leading the team to an inevitable confrontation
with the University of Louisiana -- provided Bobby can keep over-protective
Mama from finding out her baby boy is playing "the foosball."
The opening minutes of The Waterboy don't hold out much hope
for anything beyond 12-year-old comedy sensibilities. Sight gags
predominate, from footballs hitting Sandler in the head, to pratfalls
over the water cooler, to Sandler motoring about on a riding lawn mower.
Yawn-inspiring running gags involve a perpetually drunken cheerleading
squad, a pair of dim-witted die-hard fans (Clint Howard and Allen Covert),
and an assistant coach (Blake Clark) who speaks in an incomprehensible
accent. A few giggles leak out of the predictable dopiness, while
Sandler's stuttering, soft-spoken variation on Cajun Man threatens to
wear out his welcome very early on.
Yet something strange happens sometime after the fourth or fifth
reference to Bobby's backwater, snake-and-squirrel-eating background.
The dialogue starts getting sharper, including Bobby's bizarre cover
story to his Mama for his football-related bruises. Sandler starts
getting more endearingly innocent rather than acting like a moron.
And the sight gags start getting funnier, perhaps as much related to
a build-up of good will as to any change in approach. The incongruous
presence of Bates and Winkler certainly helps (the latter sporting
decidedly un-Fonzie-esque love handles), but something about the writing
in The Waterboy just kept sneaking up on me, delivering a
left-field laugh at times when I was expecting obvious bits of slapstick
Many people probably associate Sandler with moron comedy in the
Ernest/Pauly Shore/Carrot Top vein, perhaps without having seen any
of his films. He and frequent writing partner Tim Herlihy are
considerably more sly than that. They've learned a few lessons in
more upscale comedy from The Wedding Singer, and bring that
sensibility to the lower common denominator audience targeted with
The Waterboy. They certainly miss the target plenty of times
- Rob Schneider's extended cameo gets more insufferable every time he
appears - but they also don't fire at the same target over and over
again. Between the lethargic opening and the who-cares romance with
bad girl Fairuza Balk, The Waterboy is a goofy entertainment.
It appears Sandler doesn't have to be "normal" to be funny.
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