Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Damn, it feels good to once again genuinely laugh during an Adam Sandler movie. Make no mistake about it, That’s My Boy, the sophomoric funnyman’s foray into R-rated dirtiness, away from his usually sanitized PG-13 gobbledygook, is a bad movie. It’s way too long (an excessive 114 minutes). Sandler’s character, predictable man-child Donnie Berger, is one of his most obnoxious to date. And screenwriter David Caspe, director Sean Anders, and, of course, Sandler himself all foolishly believe that on-the-nose gags like an overweight stripper, a frisky grandmother, and Nick Swardson playing a crazed douchebag get funnier the more times they’re used, when the bits aren’t all that humorous in the first place. But, hell, That’s My Boy does have about three or four solid laughs, and, compared to Sandler’s pair of 2011 catastrophes, Just Go with It and Jack and Jill, that’s a minor miracle.
Still, it’s nowhere near the giant leap forward that Sandler needs to get his swag back. Essentially a more profane riff on the actor’s usual I’m-an-adult-with-a-kid’s-maturity-level shtick, That’s My Boy is only one-third of a solid grown-up comedy. The other 67 percent is comprised of obvious jokes and an overall feeling of uncontrollable irritation.
The set-up, admittedly, isn’t the worst: When Donnie Berger was just a detention-frequenting teenager, his sexy, totally immoral teacher (Eva Amurri) wholeheartedly participated in a love affair with him, producing a baby before she was hauled off to prison for 30 years. With his much older squeeze locked up, Donnie becomes a national celebrity, gracing the cover of Tiger Beat alongside Corey Feldman and Corey Haim and idiotically spending his millions of dollars. By the time’s he’s a washed-up former celebrity, his son, Han Solo (Andy Samberg) has disappeared, earned plenty of cash as a successful businessman, changed his name to the saner Todd Peterson, and is on the verge of marrying a wealthy hottie, Jamie (Leighton Meester). Which is all great for Donnie, who owes the IRS $43,000 and decides to infiltrate Todd’s wedding in order to get a sleazy TV host (Dan Patrick) to pay $50K to tape the father/son reunion for live television.
That’s My Boy could have been a dark, positively uncomfortable look at dysfunctional family values, but Sandler is too concerned with brain-dead raunchiness to push those kinds of buttons.
In the hands of a more restrained comedic performer, That’s My Boy could have been a dark, positively uncomfortable look at dysfunctional family values, but Sandler is too concerned with brain-dead raunchiness to push those kinds of buttons. Roaring through scenes with one of the most insufferable Boston accents in recent memory (think his grating Little Nicky character after living in Beantown for a few years), Sandler forcefully dominates the entire film, and not in a good way.
Samberg, mostly relegated to playing the reactionary straight man, does his best, but he’s ultimately rendered helpless against the film’s scenery-mangling elder statesman. And as That’s My Boy plows into its climax, the ridiculousness—all involving Sandler, naturally, as well as Vanilla Ice, for whatever reason—combusts, leaving no overused joke or unnecessary cameo from a familiar Happy Madison regular (here, it’s Peter Dante pointlessly reprising his excruciating Mr. Deeds character) untouched.
Thus, the actually funny moments in That’s My Boy are all the more frustrating. Aided by commendable supporting performances from Will Forte (as Todd’s pussyfooted friend) and Milo Ventimiglia (who’s impressive as Jamie’s Marine grunt of a younger brother), the film’s centerpiece, a drunken bachelor party that moves from a quiet men’s spa to Donnie’s favorite strip club, the boobs-and-breakfast spot Bacon & Leggs, is legitimately effective. Somehow, especially in the spa portion, Sandler’s rude comments all hit their marks, and, for a change, the hard-R shenanigans don’t come off as strained. Yes, for a brief second, That’s My Boy flirts with rivaling Sandler’s best works of immature hijinx, namely Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and Anger Management. The “brief second” truly is fleeting, however, and we’re back to hearing Donnie’s crude one-liners, instances that give the film’s sporadic attempts at sentimental warmth an unwanted silliness.
The inkling to award Sandler some points for at least trying something ever-so-slightly different with That’s My Boy, that being a distinct level of filthiness unseen in any of his previous movies, is certainly at play here, but all it takes is a few minutes’ worth of reflection to realize that, on the whole, he’s merely adding a bunch of F-bombs and exposed breasts to his trademark idiocy. Clearly, such idiocy works for many people, as Sandler’s flicks routinely over-perform at the box office, and That’s My Boy will no doubt send those same undemanding fans into hysterics with its rampant, bottom-feeding vulgarities. The rest of us can only re-watch Punch-Drunk Love and ponder what could have been.
Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
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