While we may never be able to pinpoint when or why it happened, at some point Adam Sandler simply gave up. The movies he made at the start of his career weren’t high art, but they had fun characters and stories to tell and the star actually seemed emotionally invested in his work. But over the last decade, for the most part, Sandler’s name no longer brings about thoughts of the word “comedian,” bur rather “label that specializes in mass-producing immature, poorly-written schlock.” And now the latest in that line, director Sean Anders’ That’s My Boy, is being shoveled into theaters.
The film begins with a young boy named Donny Berger (Justin Weaver) who becomes famous in the mid-1980s for having sex with and impregnating his school teacher. Thirty years later, however, Donny (Sandler) finds that his life has completely bottomed out and that he faces a three year prison sentence for tax evasion. While trying to figure out a way to pay the money that owes, he discovers that his son, Todd (Andy Samberg) – who emancipated himself when he turned 18 – is actually a big success who is about to get married. Donnie then works out a deal with a sleazy TV show host (Dan Patrick) promising that he can get his son to reunite with both him and his mother for a special episode, but as Donny gets closer to his son he begins to have second thoughts about his plan.
Sandler has played some awful, grating characters over the course of his career, but few have been as bad as Donny. Sporting an accent that makes him sound like he replaced his vocal cords with a meat grinder, the star spends the entire movie acting like a self-obsessed asshole, but rather than coming across as funny it’s just obnoxious. The script tries to compensate by having Todd be the only person resistant to Donny’s “charms,” but it reads false and simply makes you just as aggravated with the supporting cast as you are with Sandler.
In a way That’s My Boy is new territory for Sandler, as it’s the first R-rated film that he has made under his Happy Madison banner, but the rating only shines a light on just how lazy Sandler and his crew have become. Instead of testing their comedic skills with wit and well-crafted lines and situations, the film is plastered with excessive raunchiness and garish characters that fail to muster even a giggle. There are some moments that are actually clever and interesting – particularly a crafty cameo that comes towards the end – but it’s all drowned out by Sandler quoting decade-old beer commercials, fat strippers and Leighton Meester licking semen off of a wedding dress.
There’s also the matter of comedic timing, which seems lost on Anders, Sandler, and writer David Caspe. More than just the fact that the film reuses every lame joke you’ve ever heard (aren’t we tired of the dirty old lady and angry priest tropes by this point?), every gag is set up so that you can see it coming from a mile away. When we first meet Samberg’s character he is shown always carrying an emergency pair of underwear and you want to shed a tear because you just know that before the end of the movie the young talent will be shitting his pants. Every little wink-wink might as well be explained by a narrator that pops up at the top of the screen. The punchlines don’t work because the audience not only has time to figure out what is going to happen, but also find 10 ways that it could have been done better. By the end of the film you’re waiting to not laugh at the jokes the characters are tossing out and that’s not exactly conducive to a good time at the cinema.
There is real talent somewhere inside Adam Sandler. An actor can’t put on performances like he did in Punch Drunk Love, Funny People or even The Wedding Singer without having some sort of spark within them. What’s sad is that Sander has the spark, but he’s been suppressing it for years, instead being content flipping off audiences and raking in cash. That’s the only way that movies like That’s My Boy get made.