Silver Screen: Just Go with It *

Silver Screen: Just Go with It  *
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Silver Screen: Just Go with It *
Bryan Miller

Adam Sandler is an incredibly likeable performer, and even though the vast majority of his movies are lazily constructed around a similar template (sweet-natured manchild irresponsibly acting out meets a pretty girl and learns to be marginally more adult), he often manages to make them work. But that formula, launched with gonzo glee in the very funny Billy Madison and reaching its zenith with The Wedding Singer, has been gradually degrading over time, and hits a new low with Just Go With It, a screechingly unpleasant comedy too raunchy for younger kids and too benignly stupid for adults.

The conceit is perhaps Sandler's worst, casting him as a megarich plastic surgeon named Danny who, for two decades, has pretended to be married and concocted a series of lies about a fictitious family to score with hot young girls. After bedding them, he never calls them again.

But that's okay, you see, because nobody ever gets hurt by this... apparently. This scheme is supposed to be validated by Danny's ham-fisted sympathy grab of a backstory, in which he overhears his bride-to-be talking about cheating on him on their wedding day. Apparently one person being awful to the protagonist is license for the protagonist to be awful to scores of other people during the course of twenty years.

Danny's gimmick backfires when he meets a twenty-three-year-old school teacher who looks an awful lot like a bikini model (bikini model Brooklyn Decker). Danny wants to start a real relationship, but he has to make an excuse for the fake wedding ring he wears. His answer is to craft another lie on top of the earlier lie-- in this case, that he was formerly betrothed to his homely-because-she-wears-glasses assistant, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston). He enlists Katherine to pretend to be his bitchy about-to-be ex, until she slips up and mentions her kids.

Another few improbable plot machinations later, and Danny is forced to fly his girlfriend, his pretend ex-wife, and their pretend two children, plus his libidinous cousin (Nick Swardson) to Hawaii for a family vacation. There they just happen to run into Katherine's nemesis, former sorority sister Devlin (Nicole Kidman), and Katherine tells her that she and Danny are in fact happily married.

For a disposable comedy with a conclusion that's inevitable before the credits are done rolling, Just Go With It is choked with excess plot, most of it involving farcical twists à la Shakespearean comedy: lots of mistaken identities, confused relations, et cetera. But such farce, no doubt the talk of the abbey in the Bard's day, has been pretty much run into the ground at this point by every community theater ever to produce a Neil Simon play, and even ol' Willy S.'s prototypical comedies are only funny at this point for the zesty language, not the convoluted stories. Which would be fine if Just Go With It was packed with lines like the wonderful barbs traded in Much Ado About Nothing or The Taming of the Shrew, but Sandler and his crew can't exactly compete with the godfather of English literature. (The film is based on a French farce turned 1969 Walter Matthau vehicle, Cactus Flower, which we can safely assume had fewer jokes about a little kid with early onset irritable bowel syndrome.)

Where the clever quips should be, Sandler and his team of writers (only Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling are credited) have inserted an array of poop, boob, and dick jokes, which leads to a dissonant tone. Is this a kids' movie, with the omnipresent young costars (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck) and gags like referring to taking a dump as "making a black pickle," or is it an entendre-laden sex comedy in which Sandler and Katherine have an argument while rubbing numbing cream onto an older woman's nipples? Sandler and director Dennis Dugan try to have it both ways, but the divide between the immature and the inappropriate-for-youngsters is too great to breach here, and thus the movie is as safe and saccharine as Grownups but far more overtly sexual than, say, Fifty First Dates or You Don't Mess with the Zohan.

What finally earns Just Go With It a place among Sandler's biggest duds (somewhere between Little Nicky and Click) is, surprisingly, its mean-spiritedness and disconnection from the rabble it aims to entertain. Sandler's not-so-secret weapon is that his warmth nearly always comes through and eclipses the scruffier scripts and half-baked concepts, but here he comes off like an arrogant jerk. An awful lot of jokes here are aimed at minorities portrayed as lazy and stupid-- a fat, oblivious Mexican maid, and her eventual Hawaiian counterpart-- or involve putting fat women and old ladies in bikinis for sight-gags. Sandler's Danny, meanwhile, is a wealthy jerk who constantly flaunts his money and uses his position to mock the physical deformities of his patients. The same jokes that play as solid zingers from an underdog character like Happy Gilmore or a down-on-his-luck wedding singer come off as harsh and insensitive from a wealthy doctor trying to buy his way into Brooklyn Decker's bikini bottoms.