starring Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Susan Sarandon
screenplay by David Caspe
directed by Sean Anders
by Angelo Muredda For the first time since 2009's Funny People, That's My Boy finds Adam Sandler straying from his usual stable-mate Dennis Dugan, this time putting his trust in Sex Drive director Sean Anders and "Happy Endings" showrunner David Caspe. At first you wonder why he bothered. The opening, a 1984-set flashback to the sexual misadventures of a young Sandler (Justin Weaver) cut from the same cloth as The Waterboy's eminently punchable Bobby Boucher, isn't promising: vagina jokes drop from the sky with the leadenness of an unaired pilot, and everyone's features are shellacked into oblivion by floodlights on loan from life-insurance ads. Things aren't much better in the present, where we meet the adult Donny spitballing ways out of a financial crisis--he owes the IRS some $40,000--with New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, on hand for no discernible reason except to make us miss the Brett Favre scene in the Farrelly brothers' much funnier There's Something About Mary.
Maybe it's because that introduction sets the bar just above the floor, but That's My Boy makes a surprising recovery in its middle stretch, which has the rare distinction of being both a pretty good Adam Sandler movie and watchable overall. Not that this is a watershed moment in a spotty career: Substitute Andy Samberg for Drew Barrymore and a son for a girlfriend and this could pass as a remake of The Wedding Singer, down to the torturously over-plotted third act. (That Sandler is always named Robbie, Danny, Lenny, etc. provides a fine, useless continuity across his filmography.) The story, at any rate, is that cash-strapped Donny is looking to catch up with his hedge fund manager son Todd (Samberg) on the eve of his wedding to socialite succubus Jamie (Leighton Meester). Todd, née Han Solo, is the product of preteen Sandler's big score with his middle-school teacher (Eva Amurri Martino), now in the home stretch of her life sentence for having unapologetic and very public sex with a minor. While Donny went onto tabloid fame, Todd supposedly raised himself, his anal retentiveness and taste in bad women--the good kind, the film tells us, are wholesome strippers--becoming deep-set traits that only a weekend with dad, masquerading as his long lost best friend, can upend.
Aside from his occasional use of handheld footage, Anders isn't much of a stylistic shift from Dugan, yet the change-up pays off when Donny and Todd rehearse their father-son baggage. Samberg flounders through his first few scenes, playing D-grade material about Todd's strangeness very broadly, as if to a studio audience. He's oddly compelling, though, when he regresses from finance stooge to petulant child in his dad's presence. For years, Armond White's been puffing up Sandler's movies as subversive class comedies about social-climbing ethnic minorities, yet there's something to that reading here, however crass the result remains. Doffing his given name and marrying into a WASP tribe, Todd is a post-ethnic Heartbreak Kid. That echo would make more sense if Sandler wasn't playing Donny in Northeastern drag, with a shitty Boston accent and an infinite supply of pocket-stashed Budweisers, but you take the thematic resonances you can get in these movies.
That's My Boy hits its stride during the bachelor party Donny commandeers for Todd, in an easygoing montage that can proudly boast both Vanilla Ice's finest performance and the second-best use of Van Halen's "Dance the Night Away" after Mission to Mars. Much of that goodwill evaporates, though, in the pitiful finale, which bears such a strong family resemblance to Sandler's other woeful codas that you wonder if he's ghost-directed all of them. With Happy Madison Productions, Sandler has turned himself into a cottage industry, reliably cranking out new versions of the same product once or twice a year. Power to him, I suppose, but there are few things more depressing than a successful fortysomething man signing off all his films with corrosive misogynist rants and wish-fulfilment fantasies about driving fast cars to receptions where everyone belatedly recognizes him as the hero he's been all along. Although relegating Dugan to cameo status (as School Janitor!) might be a baby step in the right direction, it's all for naught as long as there's a Donny, a Bobby, or a Robbie in the lead.