Silver Screen: Jack and Jill 1/2*

Silver Screen: Jack and Jill  1/2*
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Silver Screen: Jack and Jill 1/2*
Bryan Miller

It's a frustrating and stupid moment when a critic-- be they a vastly wealthy Professional Opinionator such as myself or just a lowly commoner like you who's scraped together the $10 for a ticket-- attacks a movie not for its own relative merits but the perceived motivations of the moviemaker. It's fair to say, “Wow, that new Jennifer Lopez movie sucked.” In fact, it's almost certainly accurate. But it's not fair to say, “Wow, Jennifer Lopez just ripped me off. She wasn't even trying. She doesn't even care.”

People who've worked for years or even decades to get to a place where they can finally write or direct or star in a major motion picture don't generally set out to make a bad movie (Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom excepted). It's a pretty ridiculous accusation.

So it's important to note that Adam Sandler did not, in fact, mean you any personal harm when he wrote, produced, and starred in the astonishingly bad Jack and Jill, a movie so godawful that the trailers looked more like a Saturday Night Live parody of Sandler movies than an actual film released nationwide for the purposes of making money and entertaining viewers. It's a wretched, ugly thing about wretchedness and ugliness, yet it has the commercial sheen and kid-friendly PG rating that indicates it's intended as a pleasant trifle for the masses.

Sandler takes a page from the Eddie Murphy playbook (filched from the Jerry Lewis playbook) and stars as both the straight man, Jack, a successful commercial director, and his own foil, twin sister Jill. Jill is a loud, obnoxious, hulking, self-centered caricature of a woman. She's annoyance personified. The movie never makes any gestures toward what Jill does for a living or how she turned out so lonely and awful when Jack became a massively wealthy family man, but that's because Jill is really only a plot device. Like everything in the movie, she seems barely conjured, like an unfinished first draft slapped together on a deadline.

Jill flies from the East coast to Los Angeles to spend Thanksgiving with her brother and his family, including his wife (Katie Holmes) and two kids, but opts to stay. This initially chagrins Jack, who is openly disdainful of his twin sib, but the situation turns advantageous when she catches the eye of Al Pacino. Jack's career hinges on being able to get Pacino to agree to star in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial, and even though Jill is disinterested in the actor's advances, Jack tries to use her as bait to lure Pacino into the shoot.

The story is both gratingly simple and agonizingly convoluted. It's a long way to go to get to the inevitable “Family is the most important thing of all” message lying in wait just before the closing credits. It's all part of the Adam Sandler comedy formula: Sandler + weird gimmick + celebrity cameos + sappy message = a seemingly endless string of profitable comedies. That rubric sometimes produces charming results (The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore), but as Sandler transitions from spastic man-child to middle-aged indifference, it's increasingly tired. It's not that Sandler still isn't a talented guy, it's that the movies he writes and produces have failed to grow and change with him.

Back to the original point, it's unfair to say Sandler doesn't care, since he almost certainly wanted this to work. It is fair, however, to note that he doesn't seem like he cares much, at least from the effort onscreen. Jack, despite accounting for fifty percent of the title characters, is as shallow and unlikable a character as Sandler has ever created. He has no personality or defining characteristics other than being nice to his kids and mean to his sister, and Sandler, as an actor, looks utterly disinterested in the scenes of family bickering. Presumably Jill's obnoxiousness should make us a little sympathetic toward him, but that's not the case at all; the behavior only makes Jill even more unlikable. With Holmes's wife character being a total nonentity (through no fault of the actress), the movie is only able to generate a few laughs courtesy of regular Sandler cohorts Allen Covert and Nick Swardson, as well as Pacino doing an amusing self-caricature.

It's Pacino who accurately eulogizes the movie in its final moments. After finally convincing Al to do the commercial, Jack sits him down and shows him the completed Dunkin' Donuts ad, complete with rapping and awful dancing. Pacino, shellshocked, looks away from the screen and proclaims it terrible, then urges Jack to gather all the footage and burn it. It's an awkwardly accurate statement about the whole picture, maybe the only (inadvertently) honest moment in the whole thing.

Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.