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Before I went into a screening of Adam Sandler's Jack & Jill last week, I thought this might finally be the movie to burst the ever-inflating balloon of his career. The guy had gotten away with turning a story packed with gay-panic (I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry) and his own vacation with his friends (Grown Ups) into bona fide hits, but the screechy and blatantly dumb-looking Jack & Jill seemed like it might finally be a dealbreaker. Who could look at Sander in ugly drag as Jill and actually want to see that movie?
Then I actually went to the screening, and judging from some hearty laughter in the theater with me, there was clearly an audience for this movie after all. The weekend box office receipts prove it-- Jack & Jill opened to $26 million, not enough to beat Immortals for the #1 spot, but still far, fare more than it deserved. And yet there is a bright spot-- $26 million is the lowest Sandler opening since 2009's Funny People, and if you only look at the Happy Madison produced movies that aim directly for Sandler's fanbase, you have to go all the way back to 2000's Little Nicky to find a lower opening. In short, the last time people were this uninterested in Sandler, he was playing the son of Satan.
There are, of course, a ton of other factors contributing to box office aside from Sandler's star persona, from the fact that Immortals was siphoning off some of the young male audience that would pay to see Jack & Jill to the release of new video games that would also interest the same young guys.But Jack & Jill was Sandler's latest attempt to sling together a sloppy script and some half-formed jokes and make a killing off of it, and for the first time it didn't really pay out like gangbusters. The movie will probably still have no trouble turning a profit, but hopefully there will be at least a few people in the Happy Madison offices tomorrow morning worried that the public has finally turned against their con game.
The amazing thing about Adam Sandler is he still hasn't managed to completely torch his overall appeal (the way, say, Eddie Murphy seems to have), and every time he makes a Funny People or Spanglish, we all raise up on hearts in hopes that, this time, he's finally going to stop wasting his potential. But Jack & Jill especially seemed like a direct rejoinder to that, practically the setup for one of the awful comedies Sandler parodied in Jack & Jill; if this movie had been a hit, he would have had no real reason not to make Merman or My Best Friend Is A Robot. But maybe Jack & Jill's mild disappointment can be the turnaround Sandler badly needs, or at least a chance to look back and say "Huh. Maybe the public won't just always eat the shit I shovel toward them." An actual bomb opening weekend would have proven that point a little better, but I guess we take these things one step at a time.