Silver Screen: That's My Boy *
Why even bother seeing the new Adam Sandler movie you can make your very own at home for just pennies on the dollar? All you need is a few simple ingredients: old ladies talking about sex, fat people wearing very little clothing, a pretty brunette female lead who doesn't talk much and exists only to serve as a foil for the protagonist, celebrity stunt casting, various zany ethnic caricatures playing tiny roles as maids/drivers/other subservient positions, background extras consisting entirely of blonde girls in bikinis, and a soundtrack of godawful pop hits from the 1980s.
Inexplicable as it is, that seems to be Sandler's formula for success, one from which his Happy Madison-produced pictures rarely if ever deviate. It's employed to ever-diminishing returns in That's My Boy, a particularly dreadful but appropriate followup to the one-two double nut-punch of Just Go With It and Jack and Jill.
Unlike those last two misfires, however, That's My Boy has a pretty solid premise at its core. Donny (Sandler) is a washed-up Masshole whose moment of glory came illegally early. Before he could even legally drive, Donny became briefly famous for knocking up his hot teacher (played by Eva Amurri Martino in flashback, and later by Amurri Martino's real-life mother, Susan Sarandon). Donny's own deadbeat dad left him to raise the child by himself, and the results were unsurprisingly disastrous.
As an adult, Donny's son Todd (Andy Samberg) is a neurotic, needy eunuch desperately seeking suburban normalcy. Despite being an utterly ineffectual, helpless doofus, he manages to become a hedge-fund manager and is on the verge of marrying the lovely Jamie (Leighton Meester) and joining her WASP-y family. Unbeknownst to Todd, his estranged pop has fallen on hard times and needs a quick infusion of cash, so he shows up for Todd's wedding weekend in hopes of getting the money from his son.
It's a fine setup, but Sean Anders, director of the abysmal teen boner-bonanza Sex Drive, working from a script by first-time feature writer David Caspe, plays nearly every note wrong. It's a strange enough decision to conceive of Donny as some kind of fallen semi-celebrity who rose to Tiger Beat icon for his legendary sexual exploits. (Even in a Sandler comedy, turning a statutory rape victim into a national sensation seems far-fetched.) That seems to exist specifically to facilitate Donny's relationship with a pair of fallen celebrity pals, Todd Bridges and Vanilla Ice, which accounts for about one-half of the movie's three-and-a-half good jokes.
What truly cripples the movie, though, is the awful idea to make Donny's son an almost irredeemable wreck. Todd isn't just stunted by poor parenting, he's an obnoxious wuss with no discernible social skills or business acumen. His primary talent seems to be the ability to do math quickly in his head, which is apparently all you need to be a wildly successful hedge-fund manager. While Donny's over-the-top oafishness is occasionally charming, Todd is just obnoxious and seems to actually deserve all the calamities about to befall him. Samberg is a charming performer, but there's nothing he can do to save this character.
Samberg isn't the only one poorly armed for a battle he can't win. The very funny Will Forte strains to make a few gags work, nearly succeeding, while regular Sandler cohort Nick Swardson is reduced to a special effect. Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer don't even get the benefit of having jokes written for them. That lone honor is reserved for sports commentator Dan Patrick, who has a nice but brief turn as a smarmy talkshow host. But nobody fares worse than poor Milo Ventimiglia, who goes all in (physically and metaphorically) for a role that demands total humiliation and pays off with a strangely queasy punchline.
So to recap:
- Old ladies talking about sex: There's a grandmother who cleans up piles of semen-stained Kleenex and sports old-timey lingere.
- Fat people wearing very little clothing: Double points for an obese stripper and an even more obese marathon runner.
- A pretty brunette female lead who doesn't talk much and exists only to serve as a foil for the protagonist: Hello, Leighton Meester, have you met Katie Holmes (Jack and Jill), Keri Russell (Bedtime Stories), Salma Hayek (Grown Ups), or Kate Beckinsale (Click)?
- Celebrity stunt casting: It's a bad sign when Vanilla Ice is the breakout star of your movie.
- Various zany ethnic caricatures playing tiny roles as maids/drivers/other subservient positions: Hilarious Chinese servants, which should be extra funny to the Chinese people who own the theater conglomerates that screen the movie.
- A soundtrack of godawful pop hits from the 1980s: Foreigner, Van Halen, Ratt, and Def Leppard.
Yep, it's an Adam Sandler movie.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.