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Adam Sandler grows up

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If you’re looking for this summer’s real international man of mystery, look not to Austin Powers. Look not to magazines (except, of course, this one) or newspapers, and under no circumstances should you look for him on the critics’ 10-best lists.

Look instead among the leafy slopes of Bel Air, where you’ll find Adam Sandler’s home — a hideout made possible in part by the quarter-billion-dollar combined grosses of his last two movies, The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy. Or, better yet, look inside the minds of Columbia Pictures’ executives, who hope his next film, Big Daddy, opening June 25, will be a serious contender in the summer-movie race.

The problem with looking for Adam Sandler, of course, is that he happens to be a surprisingly elusive fellow. In an age when movie stars routinely discuss their sex lives, families, and finances — in an age when any casual viewer of morning television can tell you how Kathie Lee Gifford slept the night before — Sandler is a star who eschews exposure to the spotlight, refuses interview requests from the print media, and even forbids his posse, the handful of New York University buddies who’ve written, produced, and directed most of his films, to talk about him or his movies.

We might blame it on the critics — dubbed ”cynical a–holes” by a character in Big Daddy — one of whom described Sandler as having ”poor comic timing, little grace, and hardly any acting ability.” Says Chris Rock, a fellow Saturday Night Live alum: ”The press didn’t really give him any respect….Everybody dissed him, and it’s like, ‘Now you want me to talk to you?’ If I were him, I wouldn’t talk either.”

The star’s quasi-Garboesque stance with the press is an ironic joke that we can fully appreciate, because accessibility is the key to his off-the-wall brand of sophomoric humor, embraced largely by young male audiences. At 32, the man who not long ago released a song titled ”The Longest Pee” now ranks with Hanks and Cruise when it comes to bankability. And while Columbia may be frustrated at his reluctance to promote Big Daddy in print, the studio can take comfort in knowing that at least one box office analyst is predicting the film will clear $115 million domestically in this hotly competitive season. According to Entertainment Weekly‘s numerous interviews with Sandler’s friends and colleagues, it’s clear that Sandler has never been the kind of guy who plays by the rules.

Recalling Sandler’s late-’80s gigs at New York City’s Comic Strip Live, where he first began honing the avant-garde/dumb-and-dumber shtick that would ultimately morph into Saturday Night Live‘s nonsensical Operaman character and baroquely oddball movie heroes, former comanager Barry Moss says that Sandler ”never prepared his material ahead of time. He liked to go out there, feel out the audience, and then he’d wing it.” Women were so smitten by Sandler’s boyish looks and charm that they often waited around to meet him. And though he was green at the time, he delivered the rustiest of punchlines with panache. When a heckler once bellowed, ”Why aren’t you wearing socks?” Sandler responded without skipping a beat, ”Because I left them at your wife’s house.”

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