There was a time when an Adam Sandler movie was mostly greeted with anticipation. Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, and even The Waterboy may not exactly be classics, but they seemed fresh, and we at least got the sense that Sandler was trying his best. That’s My Boy feels like nothing more than a mindless cash grab. It’s a film you’ll have to be a diehard Sandler fan to enjoy, and even that may not be enough.
Schoolboy Donny Berger is seduced by his teacher, and when she goes to jail for it, he’s left to raise their love child. The scandal makes Donny a national celebrity, and he rides fame and fortune for the next few decades in a life of debauched abandon.
Cut to the present, where the adult Donny (Sandler) owes a sizable amount of back taxes to the IRS. A sleazy TV talk show host will give Donny the money if he’ll reunite with his former lover at the prison where she’s still incarcerated, and bring along their son. But Todd (Andy Samberg), completely neurotic as a result of his upbringing, wants nothing to do with his parents, having changed his name, made up a story about their deaths, and become a successful hedge fund manager. He’s also days away from getting married, and the family event is about to be disrupted by Donny’s arrival.
Unlike many of Sandler’s recent efforts (Jack and Jill, for example), this premise actually has potential. But it’s completely undone by a lack of originality. Sandler and his co-creators have recycled nearly everything from his and other previous, more successful movies, especially The Wedding Singer, with its 80s rock soundtrack, outspoken grandmother, and cameo from a notorious music celebrity (in this case, Vanilla Ice). On top of that, the film’s 18A rating gives them licence to sink the comedy as low as possible, overloading it with profanity, stereotyping, questionable sexual activities, and bodily fluids.
I’m no prude, and I’m not saying comedy shouldn’t push the envelope. The Farrelly Brothers and even Sandler himself have created great films full of borderline material. But the gags in those comedies had some measure of thought put into them. That’s My Boy seems hell-bent on merely humiliating everyone in it for the sake of cheap, often non-existent laughs. It’s not enough that Todd, being taught how to ride a bicycle, crashes into and flips over an automobile. It’s not enough that the car contains an angry couple having sex. The couple just happens to be two very overweight people who then chase Todd around the street, nearly naked, in a moment that seems hideously calculated and not at all funny.
Sandler is even less kind to his lead actors, who must all have been convinced after reading the script that they’d work out the problems and make it funny on set. You can actually see their embarrassment in some scenes. Up-and-comers like Leighton Meester (as Todd’s fiancée) and Milo Ventimiglia (as her jarhead brother) might have chosen this project for the exposure, but heavyweights like Susan Sarandon and James Caan surely should know better.
The film does get a slight lift from Sandler’s Saturday Night Live friends, including Samberg and Will Forte, fearless comic actors who will brave anything for a laugh. But even Sandler seems detached from the proceedings, hiding behind yet another grating accent, as if he’s lost faith in his own schtick and hoping we won’t notice yet more recycled formula. That may be reason enough to avoid That’s My Boy.
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