Way back in the olden days, Adam Sandler was the funniest man alive. He was so talented that he actually made Saturday Night Live a show that you looked forward to each week. Then he went and made Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Bulletproof, The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy, which were all phenomenal enough to leave audiences with cracked ribs and damp pants.
Back then, 20 million or so fans, including me, vowed to watch anything this guy was in throughout the rest of time, no matter how awful things got. We would stick around through hell, high water and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, holding a vigil in hopes that the master would awake from his sleepwalk. One day, we prayed into our popcorn, Sandler would stop with the terrible The Longest Yard Remakes, the Just Go With Its, the Grown Ups and the Bedtime Stories and find the seat cushion that he accidentally lost his genius underneath.
By the time Sandler starred in a movie called Funny People, it seemed ironically titled. It just wasn't gonna happen for us. But the dumber of us 20 million still stuck around, and with That's My Boy, we've finally been rewarded for our ignorance, stubbornness and general stupidity.
The movie is a hurricane of disgustingly wrong sight gags, so-dated-they're-fresh references and dialogue that's must have been copied out of the teacher's edition of the Cruelly Funny One-Liners 101 textbook.
Sandler plays Donny, who impregnated his middle school teacher when he was a teenager and became a celebrity who wasted all his money, hung with the likes of Vanilla Ice and the two Coreys and ended up falling from grace just like those guys. Facing prison unless he can come up with back taxes, he wants to reconnect with his estranged son, Todd (Andy Samberg), whom he figures he can coax into a big-money reality shoe reunion with him and his mom.
Todd, who is about to get married to bossy bridezilla Jamie (Leighton Meester), is so embarrassed of Donny that he makes him pretend to be an old friend. Donny tries to re-forge the father-son bond while trying not to alienate Jamie's family and destroy the wedding. Which means, of course, that Donny will alienate the family and destroy the wedding as much as possible before eventually setting everything right, or not.
It's a blueprint for disaster, but Sandler — armed with an anything-goes R rating and a sicker-than-usual mind — is back in 1990s form, when he wasn't interested in trying to please everyone. He's made a vulgar, disgusting movie that joyfully tries to make the stodiger viewers file out of the theater, leaving more room for everyone who gets it to roll in the aisles. It seems as though he and his filmmaking team came up with a ton of great jokes that the money guys would deem unacceptable and cut out, leaving only the bland stuff. Then he took everything that had been cut and made that into the movie, trashing all the bland junk.
Samberg proves to be an able Robin to Sandler's Batman, turning what could have been a thankless straight-man role into a Ben Stiller-like sponge for indignities. Vanilla Ice, who gets a surprising amount of screentime as Donny's partner in crime, is game to mock himself and show some comedic acting chops that eclipse his questionable talent as a rapper. And bless the sweet yet deranged soul of 89-year-old Peggy Stewart, who manages to upstage Sandler, Samberg, Vanilla Ice and everyone else to appear to be Betty White's funnier younger sister.
That's My Boy turns out not only to be the title of the movie, but something Sandler's poor, suffering fans can gleefully say to each other as they acknowledge that their hero is back.
At least until Grown Ups 2 comes out.
Starring Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Vanilla Ice, Leighton Meester and James Caan. Written by David Caspe. Directed by Sean Anders. 114 minutes. Rated R.