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This week, for the 27th time since 1995, there will be a new movie in theaters with Adam Sandler as its star. I've seen the other 26. Here's what I know about the new one:
1. It's called Blended.
2. It stars Sandler and Drew Barrymore as single parents who dislike each other but fall in love while their respective families are for some reason on an African vacation together.
3. I won't be watching it.
This decision was a long time coming. As a very serious and professional film critic, with business cards and everything, I hold some principles sacred. Chief among them: every movie has a chance of being good. No matter how bad it sounds, or how dumb the trailer looks, or how awful the filmmaker's previous work has been—no matter how much you suspect a movie is going to blow—right up until the moment you watch it, there's still the possibility that it won't suck.
This optimism is not always easy to maintain. It's difficult to convince yourself that the latest video-game-based movie might be good, for example, when you're acutely aware of how bad 99-percent of all prior VG movies have been. Nonetheless, you hold out hope. This could be the one! When it turns out not to be the one (it's never the one), you are discouraged but not defeated. Maybe next time!
Which brings us to Adam Sandler. The SNL alumnus and recovering Rob Schneider addict has always been hit or miss, but his first few movies—Billy Madison (1995), Happy Gilmore (1996), The Wedding Singer (1998)—while scattershot, had a youthful, manic energy to them. (Whatever happens between now and doomsday, few of us will ever see anything greater than Bob Barker beating the hell out of Happy Gilmore on a golf course.) Things began to go south with the infantile Waterboy (1998) and the syrupy-sweet Big Daddy (1999), followed soon by the genuinely miserable Little Nicky (2000). Still, at least it seemed like Sandler, his writers, and his producers were making an effort.
Then came Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002), a semi-serious movie from a legit writer-director headlined by a surprisingly mature Sandler performance that applied the brakes to his downhill slide. Maybe he would join the ranks of comedians who found critical acclaim by turning to drama? Anything was possible in the heady days of late 2002, early 2003!
Alas, it was not to be. Sandler only played it straight in two more movies: Spanglish (2004) and Reign Over Me (2007). Both were mediocre and neither brought him anything near Punch-Drunk Love levels of praise or recognition. Meanwhile, he kept plopping out lowest-common-denominator turds of varying degrees of stinkiness, not just in his usual genre of broad idiocy (The Longest Yard, 2005; Mr. Deeds, 2002) but in styles ranging from romantic comedy (50 First Dates, 2004) to family-friendly fantasy (Click, 2006; Bedtime Stories, 2008) to holiday cartoons (Eight Crazy Nights, 2002). Give him enough money to make a Elizabethan costume drama and I am confident Sandler could find a place for Kevin James, some fart jokes, and a Dan Patrick cameo.
He's been on a particularly bad streak lately, by which I mean the past decade. From 2004 to the present, he's made 14 movies, and not counting 2012's Hotel Transylvania (an animated kid flick that feels like a different creature), exactly one of them—Funny People (2009)—has been good. The rest have varied in their degrees of badness, and a few could be described as merely mediocre. But the only legitimately good film out of those 14 is the one where Sandler has terminal cancer.
Funny People was the turning point. Written and directed by Judd Apatow (not one of Sandler's usual cohorts, you'll notice), the film had Sandler doing something he'd rarely done before: make fun of himself. His character, George Simmons, was a stand-up comedian who'd become super-wealthy by appearing in imbecilic movies like Mer-Man (he's a mermaid, but a man), Dog's Best Friend (he's a cop with a canine partner), My Best Friend Is a Robot (self-explanatory), and Re-Do (where he reverts to infancy, his adult head CGI'd onto a baby's body)—in other words, by starring in a lot of Sandler-type movies. There's no ambiguity in Funny People about the quality of these fictional flicks. They're dumb, easy comedies, and George Simmons is a sellout for making them.
This seemed to indicate that Sandler was self-aware, maybe even penitent. Surely he wouldn't go back to making moronic wiener-fests after doing a film that mocked moronic wiener-fests. It's one thing to make bad movies because you don't know any better. Funny People showed that Sandler did know better. At the very least, it showed an awareness of how his work is perceived by Hollywood and the general public: as a laughing stock, and not in a good way.
Well, you know what happened next. Sandler's next five live-action films were the most brutally inept loads of sub-moronic whimsy of his entire career, each more punishing than the last, chock-full of shameless product placement, pointless cameos, set-ups without payoffs, and urine, so much urine. It's almost like he took the parody movies in Funny People as a challenge: "You think I can't make a real movie that's dumber than those fake ones?! Get a load of Jack and Jill!" Grown Ups (2010) was transparently nothing more than an excuse for Sandler and his buddies to hang out. Its sequel (2013) was so lazy it didn't even have a plot. In Just Go With It (2011), Sandler was outmatched by an uncredited Nicole Kidman, who's not exactly known for her comedy chops.
That's My Boy (2012) showed promise. Not only was it directed by someone Sandler hadn't worked with before, Sean Anders, but unlike everything else on his résumé besides Funny People, Punch-Drunk Love, and Bulletproof (1996), it was rated R. Sandler had never done a full-on raunchy comedy. Maybe the new setting and new freedom would reinvigorate him and—oh, whoops, no. It was abysmal again, just another putrid mess in which Sandler plays an aggressive idiot with an annoying fake voice who shows up to disrupt someone’s life, and in which the message of the film turns out to be that everyone needs to act more like the aggressive idiot. (This is a recurring theme in Sandler's oeuvre.)
Taking all of this evidence together, I arrive at the following conclusions:
1. Adam Sandler knows his movies are weak, derivative misfires, worthy of ridicule and disdain, full of cheap gags and non sequiturs and poop.
2. He doesn't care.
And why should he? Every movie involves vacationing somewhere with a cast and crew made up of his friends and sycophants. He gets paid for starring in them, and paid again for being a producer. He keeps working with the same directors and writers, so there won't be any challenges or surprises. He doesn't do press other than TV talk shows, so he doesn't have to worry about being called out on his hypocrisy by a reporter who wants to know how in the name of all that is good and holy he can justify his post-Funny People decisions. He's free to let his life play out the way his characters' lives do: he's always right, he never needs to change, and he's unfettered by responsibility.
Of his 26 movies, I count six that are good or good-ish: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, Punch-Drunk Love, Anger Management (2003), Funny People, and Hotel Transylvania. (Your list might be different, but I suspect it isn't much longer.) For years I continued to approach each new film with optimism, because there was always the chance that Sandler would have learned from his past mistakes. Now I realize this optimism was misplaced. Sandler's movies aren't going to get better because he has no incentive to make them better. Indeed, his career choices suggest a cynical, calculated decision to keep cranking them out half-baked even though he knows they're lousy.
So I wash my hands of him. I'm Charlie Brown, Sandler is Lucy with the football, and I'm tired of yelling "AAAAUGH!" I know it's theoretically still possible for him to make a comedy that produces laughter rather than despair. But the likelihood of this is so small—and the potential damage to my psyche from enduring yet another Sandlerian dud so great—that it's not worth the risk. Life is too short to waste time with movies made by people who don't care if they're any good.
Eric D. Snider is a freelance film journalist and comedy writer. He tweets here.