Jack (Adam Sandler) brings his twin sister, Jill (also Sandler), to a Lakers game. Across the Staples Center, Al Pacino spots the siblings. Smitten with Jill’s swarthy “beauty,” the Oscar winner sends her a hot dog on which he has used mustard to pen his personal phone number. “Call me,” he requests.
“Call your agent,” I wanted to respond to Pacino.
The scene in the Jack & Jill trailer’s supposed to get a laugh. So why, then, does it break my heart? Audiences are supposed to be shocked that Hollywood royalty such as Pacino would find Jill attractive. Yet I’m more surprised that Pacino – whose acting resume includes such indisputable classics as Serpico, Heat, Dog Day Afternoon, Glengarry Glen Ross, Carlito’s Way and the Godfather trilogy – would agree to slum in Sandler’s latest yucky yuk fest.
How did we get to this point? Why do bona-fide A-listers routinely agree to demean themselves (and damage their professional credibility) by appearing in crass Sandler comedies?
I have to blame Steve Buscemi. The tremendous character actor agreed to play a lipstick-wearing sharpshooter in Sandler’s breakout starring vehicle, the 1995 comedy Billy Madison. It was the first time I could remember thinking, “He’s in this?” while watching a Sandler film. At the time, Buscemi was coming off of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. He’d appeared in multiple Coen Brothers films, and collaborated with the likes of Abel Ferrara and Martin Scorsese. Yes, he co-starred alongside Sandler in Airheads, so maybe this was a payback. “You wash my back, I’ll wash yours.” Yet somehow, this act of tomfoolery cleared legitimate actors to appear in Sandler’s efforts.
Which was fine … at first. It was admirable seeing Carl Weathers give his career a jolt by playing a crocodile-hating golf guru in Happy Gilmore. And it was sort of a nostalgic kick when fellow pop-culture icon Henry Winkler (Happy Days), showed his comedic side playing a beleaguered football coach in The Waterboy.
Yet all of a sudden, Kathy Bates also agreed to play Sandler’s mama in the same film, and the train started teetering off the track. The problem, as Commissioner Gordon warned, was escalation. Suddenly, it became cool to cameo – or even co-star – in a Sandler comedy. What started as an inside joke became a legitimate casting movement. Jon Stewart does a spot in Big Daddy. Harvey Keitel, Rodney Dangerfield and Reese Witherspoon sign on for Little Nicky. Jack “M-Fing” Nicholson agrees to co-star in Anger Management.
Say this out loud. Keitel. Nicholson. Pacino. Sandler’s one Robert De Niro cameo away from collecting a full house of veritable 1970s cinema legends.
What the hell inspires these giants of cinema to match “wits” with Sandler? It can’t be the paycheck. They shouldn’t need it. Is it a desire to play broad comedy? Because at the very least, I can say that actors like Keitel and Pacino rarely are given the chance to show off a lighter side. And Nicholson, when he does do comedy, tends to keep it high-brow with collaborators ranging from James L. Brooks to Alexander Payne. That’s far better company to keep than the likes of Peter Segal (Management) or Dennis Dugan (You Don’t Mess With the Zohan).
And let’s not even mention the bevy of impossible beauties who’ve agreed to play Sandler’s love interest over the years. In that aspect, the man’s truly blessed. Salma Hayek? Gorgeous. Kate Beckinsale? Beautiful. Jessica Biel? Hot. Julie Bowen? Stunning and funny. But let’s not pick at that scab. It’s a whole ‘nother feature waiting to happen.
For now, as Sandler prepares to slip into a skirt and fulfill a childhood wish of romancing Michael Corleone, I have to ask, “When will it stop?” When will actors who should be spending time making better films stop collecting paychecks for Sandler comedies. Leave that to the Rob Schneiders, the Kevin James’s, and the David Spades of the world. It’s not like appearing in Grown Ups prevented those comedic castoffs from making another Oscar-worthy cinematic endeavor. But Pacino possibly could have been contributing to the greater good had he not been tied up in Jack & Jill.
And if Oscar winners continue to feed Sandler’s insatiable thirst for prestigious co-stars, where does it end? Will we see Christopher Plummer playing an actual plumber? Meryl Streep as Sandler’s nurturing mommy? Or Dame Judi Dench as Sandler’s cyber-sex partner in yet another crude effort? Sadly, the possibilities are endless.