Those who saw potential in Adam Sandler as a dramatic actor after Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, have probably long since given up hope he’ll ever do anything like that again. He’s retreated to his far more successful routine of playing charismatic buffoons in movies that have felt more like opportunities to hang out with his roster of C-list buddies in exotic locales. Basically, he’s been coasting in a safe zone for more than a decade, trying hard to appease fans of his edgier early work, while also remaining as harmless as possible. Not a good combination.
That’s My Boy is a little bit different, however, and it’s fair to say Sandler is more inspired here than he has been in quite some time. Granted, that’s a pretty low bar, and the film is still childish in a way that is rarely endearing and often insulting. However, it’s a pleasant surprise to see Sandler cutting loose again in a hard R-rated comedy, and occasionally that’s enough to get the film through some rough patches.
With Sean Anders behind the camera, the combination of him with Sandler promises to be a wickedly vintage affair. Anders previously directed the 1980s time travel comedy, Hot Tub Time Machine, while many of Sandler’s flicks have had him either in the past or being stuck in it mentally. Here he plays Donny Berger, who we meet as a young super-stud teenager who lucks into catching the eye of his sexy teacher, Ms. Mary McGarricle(Eva Amurri), leading to a Mary Kay Letourneau-style scandal. Pregnant, she’s thrown in prison, while Donny becomes a national superstar and the envy of teen stars everywhere. He’s rich, he’s famous, but Donny also now has to be a Dad, at which he fails disastrously, beginning by naming his new son Han Solo Berger(Andy Samberg). Way to put pressure on a kid.
A couple of decades later, and Donny isn’t so hot anymore. He still drives the same crappy old car, and his son split as soon as he hit the age of 18. He’s broke, and stuck drowning his sorrows at a nasty strip club hilariously titled the Bacon and Legs, figuring out how to pay his back taxes before the IRS hauls him off to jail. Mostly ignoring the advice of his agent(an out of place Rex Ryan), Donny gets the opportunity to solve all of his problems by reuniting his family on a low-rent TV show. Fortunately, he knows just where to find his son, as he’s become a well known and very wealthy hedge fund manager on the verge of getting married.
Trying to hide from his past, Han now calls himself Todd Peterson and is about as screwed up as a child of ill-gotten celebrity can be. He’s a “Never Nude”(Arrested Development fans will understand), is a bundle of frayed nerves, and carries an extra pair of clean underwear in his pocket. Dude is seriously screwed up. When Donny shows up out of nowhere, it shatters Todd’s delicate nerves even further, but also the carefully constructed lie that his parents both died in an explosion. Donny plays along, pretending to be his superheroic best friend, and somehow everyone is stupid enough to fall for it.
After wandering aimlessly for way too long, the film finds inspiration as father and son begin to reconnect, especially during a wild bachelor party that starts with a brawl with Vanilla Ice, but ends with a buddy getting oral pleasure from a stripper in a neck halo. Yeah, it’s crazy on a scale similar to The Hangover, and if the entire film had the same level of craziness, we might be talking about That’s My Boy as being a sleeper surprise. Unfortunately, the plot intrudes, along with a script that seems intent on offending every category of person under the sun. Overweight people, Asian-Americans, the handicapped, the elderly, and most especially women are trashed mercilessly without a hint of subtlety or insight. The ladies are all sluts, gold-diggers, or raging harpies. This is best exemplified in Todd’s fiance, Christina(Leighton Meester), who embodies all three of those things. Far too often the script aims for vulgarity merely for the shock value, but by the time you’ve heard your fourth semen joke the well runs pretty dry.
Donny does turn out to be one of Sandler’s more memorable characters, but he’s so large that everybody else fades into the background. That includes Andy Samberg, the SNL breakout who many think has a bright future outside of the show(I disagree). He still hasn’t quite learned how to act when not performing one of his own sketches, and wildly miscalculates most every emotional turn, of which there are few. When you get out acted by Vanilla Ice, something has gone terribly awry. A number of celebrity cameos pop up to varying degrees of success.
That’s My Boy certainly isn’t Sandler’s worst film. It crushes both of Sandler’s Razzie nominated efforts from last year. That’s not saying a whole lot, though, and it’s sad to see Sandler so motivated for such a terrible movie. If you’re a half glass full sort of person, perhaps this is a tip-toe in the right direction?