Does Adam Sandler care about the quality of his movies? Is it better if he doesn’t care — if it’s just a job? He has made so many movies, and so many are bad, but quality doesn’t have to matter. Walk a mile in this man’s shoes. He cares about his family. They’re in his movies, and half his projects look like they were paid family vacations (two films shot in Hawaii, that long sequence in Jack and Jill product-placing the largest cruise ship in the entire world). Sandler’s filmography eventually developed the sparkle-shine of endless product placement – but so do most famous Instagram feeds. Maybe Sandler was a pioneer in a new way of thinking, his whole life sponsored and branded. Maybe they should teach his career in Business School.
And while we’re listing character traits that would be admirable absent the ensuing cinematic wreckage: Adam Sandler cares about his friends. They’re in his movies. If you were in Grandma’s Boy, you’re guaranteed a producer credit. If you were a dude on Saturday Night Live a generation ago, then you can have a cameo, any cameo. If you knew Adam Sandler in 1993 at all, it seems likely that he has made you some money in the last quarter-century, maybe paid for a vacation, maybe paid for your house. How much money have you made for your friends?
We know Adam Sandler cares about money. Nothing wrong with that, in theory. Hollywood is capitalism, capitalism is money, money moves around Adam Sandler, and so we can praise him as a Hollywood capitalist of the highest order. For a long time, he made money for an old Hollywood studio, Columbia, and its corporate parent company, Sony. In 1999, Sony’s highest-grossing film at the domestic box office was a Sandler film, Big Daddy. In 2013, 14 years and whole Hollywood epochs and the Rise of Facebook and the Proliferation of Cinematic Universes and Disney Buying Your Childhood later, Sony’s highest-grossing film at the domestic box office was Grown Ups 2, another Sandler film.
Of course, 2013 was a bad year for Sony (not as bad as 2014, not as bad as 2015, not as bad as 2016…). And, by 2013, things were souring between Sandler and Sony. He wasn’t a star, he was an industry — two films per year, at least — and the whole Sandler industry was declining: diminishing box office returns, no hope for a foreign bump, his jokes don’t travel to Chengdu. The Grown Ups franchise was always Plan B, a last-ditch Expendables-ification of his whole comedy generation.
Like so many declining industries, Sandler sought sanctuary in the new digitality. He signed a four-picture deal with Netflix. The third film of that deal arrived on the Netflix home screen back in April. It’s called Sandy something.
“Would you be willing to watch all the Adam Sandler Netflix movies in one sitting?” is what my editor asked me the other day. That’s why I’m on Adam Sandler’s IMDb page, trying to remember the last time I saw an Adam Sandler film. And on his IMDb page, there are the three headlines next to Sandler’s long filmography:
Netflix Claims People Have Spent 500 Million Hours Watching Adam Sandler Movies
According to Netflix, Viewers Have Spent A Half-Billion Hours Watching Adam Sandler
Netflix Q1 Subscriber Growth Falls Short of Expectations
I don’t really know how Netflix could fall “short of expectations.” Or rather, I don’t know how anything about Netflix that involves financial terms like “Q1” could fall “short of expectations.” (Everybody has Netflix; that’s why they call it Netflix.) But we all know Netflix’s output can sometimes stumble: disappointing revivals, draggy dramas, good luck finding a movie made before you were born if you’re the kind of person seeking the immortal transcendent beauty of cinematic history and not the infinite consumptive expanse of streaming binge-friendly content.
But they have all-time masterpiece Bojack Horseman and that one episode of Black Mirror everyone loved, and the good seasons of Orange Is the New Black, and that one episode people liked in that one show by the mumblecore guy. And they have you, and they have me. I just set my parents up with a Netflix account. (I could’ve shared my password, but that seemed wrong somehow.)
So: Netflix is falling short of expectations? And simultaneously announcing, “People have watched half a billion hours of Adam Sandler movies”? Should we say “correlation does not imply causality,” ho ho ho yes it does? Or should we ponder: Was “half a billion hours of Adam Sandler movies” short of expectations? That number was meant as a brag, but like most metrics in the digital age, it is both cosmic and unimpressive, like the 21st planet you discover in No Man’s Sky. Just as a comparative statistic, Yahoo reportedly has a billion monthly users, and Yahoo is [death music from Super Mario NES]. If a billion isn’t cool, you know what’s not cool? Half a billion.
Still, it’s a big number. It validates the success of the Netflix-Sandler alliance. The company signed him for four more movies. Netflix is so many things, and now it is an entire phase of Adam Sandler’s career, the Blue period, the Paris years.
Have you seen any of his Netflix movies? I haven’t. I honestly don’t remember the last time I saw Sandler in a movie. Which is why I’m on IMDb, running back his recent years. Here’s Sandler before he joined with Netflix: Pixels, The Cobbler, Men Women & Children, Top Five, Grown Ups 2, Hotel Transylvania, That’s My Boy… mostly terrible, so I’ve heard secondhand. Then the last Sandler movie I saw in theaters: Jack and Jill.
It was 2011, New York, Friday night, the Lincoln Square theater, we snuck in booze. Someone knocked their bottle over midway through, rolling glassware echoed through the theater, nobody else in the crowded theater noticed. Jack and Jill is miserable by any obvious measure, but I remember laughing at the awfulness, the sheer unrepentant big-money amateurism. At some point, it started to look like outsider art, magically produced from deep within the absolute molten core of whatever outsider art typically lives outside of. Like, Ed Wood made Ed Wood movies, but he was a dreamer loon with financing from a local Baptist Church. Jack and Jill is a corporate product that feels exactly tragically handmade: like someone knitted a sock with holes in it, and they were trying to knit a hat. I started to wonder if Jack and Jill was Sandler’s true masterpiece. We must have stayed out hours after the movie ended, remembering the parts we couldn’t believe.
To be clear: 20 years ago, I was Sandler’s key demographic. Billy Madison in 1995, Happy Gilmore in 1996: We watched them all the time on video, memorized every dumb throwaway line with liturgical precision. When I watch Happy Gilmore now, I can see my family’s old TV set, I hear what a VCR sounds like. When I watch Billy Madison, I experience with vivid clarity 7th-grade conversations that were just us dumb 7th-graders quoting Billy Madison back and forth. Sandler wasn’t a movie star we liked. He was a vocabulary.
And he aged right along with us, it seemed. The Wedding Singer was a romance; he sang a song for Drew Barrymore about growing old together. This, in the same precise year junior high dances started and we started laughing about liking people, tee-hee. Sander learned how to parent in Big Daddy, and when we walked out of the theater, Jimmy said, “That wasn’t as funny as The Waterboy,” and Ryan said, “It wasn’t just about being funny, Jimmy!!!” and the rest of us agreed with Ryan: Big Daddy was serious stuff. And then I was just the right age to pretend to know what Punch-Drunk Love was about.
When did you stop caring about Adam Sandler? I gave up in 2003, with Anger Management. Maybe I hit my limit for John McEnroe cameos. More likely, I was finally lame enough to care if a movie’s whole point was reprehensible, and the point of Anger Management is UNLEASH YOUR RAGE SO WO-MAN WILL RESPECT YOU AND THEN RUDY GIULIANI WILL SANCTIFY YOUR HOLY RAGE. The Adam Sandler movie, as a genre, was by then a tropefest of celebrity cameos, Sandler-pal cameos, eerily overqualified lead actresses (Marisa Tomei deserved that Oscar!), unconvincing slapstick, unconvincing sentiment, all building to a big climactic moment when everyone cheers for Adam Sandler with the forced smiles of employees who just found out that new coworker “Bill” was an Undercover Boss all along.
But we don’t forget our childhood icons. And what if that icon is still an icon, has survived the apocalyptic storms of Hollywood, has found himself a whole new retirement phase producing content for our leading content manufacturer? It’s intriguing.
So I decide to start Sandler’s Netflix era from the beginning, with The Ridiculous 6, then The Do-Over, then his newest movie, Sandy something. IMDb says the full title is Sandy Wexler. I have no idea what Sandy Wexler is about, and I’m excited to go into it totally cold.
But when I go to Netflix, it is the big main thing on the home screen. I glance just long enough to see the first four words of the summary: “Hollywood is full of…”
Full of what? I wonder. Dreams? Broken dreams? Hip, young tech companies allying themselves with fading icons from the final age of theatrically released feature films? I wonder if Sandy Wexler will be Ray Donovan but with Adam Sandler, Entourage but with Adam Sandler, The Long Goodbye but with Adam Sandler. Man, I love The Long Goodbye.
Watching three Adam Sandler movies in one sitting will not be a chore, I vow. It will be a mission. I want to understand Sandler: what has he become, and what he always was. I want to find out: Does he care? Did he ever care?
Whatever else this experience will lead me to think about Adam Sandler, I should make one thing clear. I don’t consider him merely an actor, nor merely an actor-producer with a vested interest in his roles, nor even an actor-producer-cowriter with some trace authorial presence in his films. I consider him a filmmaker. Since the late ’90s, he has steadily produced his films on a formula and worked with the same directors whose careers have been largely Sandler-focused. When it comes to the films that come out of his Happy Madison production company, I believe either Adam Sandler is the author or nobody is the author.
I’m aware that his films are company projects, and maybe the safest analysis of Sandler is that he is a CEO, and like many CEOs, he has to maintain a public presence, and like many CEOs, he’s only glancingly aware of the product he’s pitching. It’s the simplest solution, but if simple solutions were the best solutions, then one man could fix the Middle East while ending the opioid crisis. Clearly that’s impossible, and clearly, these are Adam Sandler movies, through and through, whatever that means. I believe they have something to say about Adam Sandler, even if that something is nothing.
The Ridiculous 6
There are two fundamental stories in the Adam Sandler filmography: “Everyone loves Adam Sandler eventually” and “Everyone loves Adam Sandler immediately.” In the first story, he’s a goofy downtrodden misfit, openly despised by avatars of cool-highbrow-dude society, who ascends to populist fame and explicit fortune. See: Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison and The Waterboy and anytime he uses the quivering baby voice. In the second story, Sandler is already totally cool and beloved when the film begins, children and little old ladies sing his praises, the ladies love him. Everyone in Mr. Deeds likes Mr. Deeds, people who mess with Zohan quickly learn You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, he’s the nicest of womanizers in 50 First Dates and Just Go With It. There are variations: In That’s My Boy, Sandler is a popular figure who has become a misfit. And there is a steady escalation in the crowd-size for the inevitable “We Love You!” cheering climax. An assembled crowd of onlookers clap for him in Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Sold-out Yankee Stadium grants him an ovation in Anger Management. The whole Earth loves him by the end of Pixels.
The Ridiculous 6 announces itself immediately as a movie where Sandler’s already the coolest man ever. He’s playing a white dude raised by Native Americans. His name is White Knife because names are funny. He has sort of a mock-Eastwood voice, and I’m already skeptical of any movie where Sandler does a “voice.” He’s engaged to a human woman played by Julia Jones, and we won’t immediately objectify this character, her name is Smoking Fox, never mind. The first scene of Ridiculous 6 is a “classic Western showdown” between White Knife and a posse of eyepatched bad dudes played by Lavell Crawford (Huell in Breaking Bad), Sandler regular Nick Swardson, some guy I don’t recognize who doesn’t get much screen time, some other guy I don’t recognize who gets so much screen time I decide he must be a friend of Sandler’s, and Will Forte playing a character who feels so exceedingly improvised that of course his name in the movie is “Will.”
I laugh for the first time today when Lavell Crawford explains that everyone in the gang wears an eyepatch because, “We all carved the eyeballs out of our skulls to show how devoted we are to this gang,” at which point the whole gang cheers like idiots and Lavell Crawford holds up a jar of eyeballs. It’s dumb comedy done right, contrasted helpfully with the scene that follows, an endless “action” sequence where White Knife fights all five bad guys using superspeed. Superspeed is an effect that looks dumb onscreen unless you’ve really come up with coherent visual strategy, “coherence” and “visual” and “strategy” not words that generally apply to the Sandler filmography. Wow, superspeed looks dumb here, and maybe the dumbness is part of the joke, but sometimes crap that looks like crap is just crap.
Then, White Knife returns to his village, where everyone cheers him on and a woman villager says, “White Knife all man, the bravest of all braves.” The character who says that is named “Never Wears Bra.” She is played by Adam Sandler’s wife, Jackie. [NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: There will be more Native American name jokes.]
White Knife has two fathers. He was raised by a Native American man, Screaming Eagle, played by Saginaw Grant. But the plot of the film turns on the arrival of his biological father, a hellraising old criminal named Frank Stockburn, played by Nick Nolte. Frank never knew his son but tells White Knife that he’s dying of consumption, so he’s looking to make amends. He’s got $50,000 buried nearby that he wants to bequeath to him — a nice gesture from a man White Knife barely knows. White Knife bonds with his white father by telling him the story of his mother’s murder, a sequence shot with all the poetry of Martha Wayne’s 15th onscreen death.
This sequence ends with Sandler saying that his mom died because she was trying to protect him “instead of being home safe where she belongs,” but let’s talk about Saginaw Grant instead of weirdly retrograde institutional sexism. A genuine chief in the Sac and Fox nation, Grant also had a small role in The Lone Ranger, another comedy Western starring a once-beloved movie star modeling purposefully over-the-top Native American garb. Like The Lone Ranger, The Ridiculous 6 seems like a bizarre attempt to honor Native Americans while reducing actual Native Americans to the supporting-est of supporting roles. Do I think Saginaw Grant will have more scenes in this movie than Nick Nolte? I do not.
Danny Trejo just showed up as a bad guy. He takes white-father Frank with him and sets the movie’s tick-tock: White Knife needs to get $50,000, or Frank will die. If Danny Trejo is the main bad guy in this movie – like, if he’s the Shooter McGavin/Bradley Whitford, and the mere presence of Adam Sandler slow-burns him on a spiral into insanity – then Ridiculous 6 will not be a waste of my time.
If I tell you that Rob Schneider plays a half-Mexican character with a broad accent whose best friend is a burro, and if I tell you that – at the end of Rob Schneider’s first scene in the movie – that burro sprays feces all over the wall, what do you feel? Resignation? Rage? Confusion? Schneider’s family is Mexican, which was the basis for his short-lived sitcom and for a tweet he directed to the future President of the United States. So maybe you can say, “He is drawing on comedy from his own life.” But Schneider has played so many of these offensive, broad stereotypes for Sandler — a Palestinian and an Arab, a character named “Asian Minister” in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, “Chinese Waiter” in Eight Crazy Nights. It starts to feel like a provocation. Are we supposed to feel rage? And if you’re the kind of person who thinks, “Well they’re just making fun of the stereotype, don’t take everything too seriously,” allow me to kindly retort, “DURRR THEY’RE MAKING FUN OF THE STEREOTYPE DURRRR,” you sound like a dumbo, you dumbo.
“Gol dang, he fell down his pooper!” is the first thing Taylor Lautner says in this movie. “I’m a virgin, too, unless you count cantaloupes” comes soon after.
Second spray of burro feces in the movie. This will be a running joke, I guess.
And the running plot thing of the movie is that White Knife keeps accidentally meeting more his half-brothers, other sons of Frank Stockburn. So far we’ve got Schneider and Lautner, and they begin a criminal spree to raise money to save their father. They also share a tender campfire talk. They’re stoked to meet their dad, and they’re stoked to get to know him better. You can tell it’s a real gaping hole in their lives, not having a father.
So, The Ridiculous 6 is a comedy Western, playing with the easily recognizable archetypes of the Western genre. Sandler turned 50 last year, which means that like most people left on Earth, he has no actual memory of whatever you want to term the “classical” Western era. Production started on Sergio Leone’s violently operatic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly a few months before Sandler was born. That film’s star, Clint Eastwood, was the most visible avatar of Hollywood’s Western fixation during Sandler’s adolescence: Tough post-John Wayne adventures like The Outlaw Josey Wales and Hang ‘Em High, then Unforgiven while Sandler was at SNL. And while he was at SNL, Kevin Costner released Dances With Wolves, a sensitive and endearingly dopey attempt to “fix” the Hollywood Western by focusing on a white guy who likes Native Americans instead of a white guy who doesn’t like Native Americans.
These are all different movies, but they all have one thing in common.
But also, they share a consistent lack of sentimentality about their characters — even if their tones are sometimes wildly nostalgic or sermonizing and messianic. Everyone in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly is an ugly bad bastard, and nobody in Unforgiven gets forgiven, and Dances with Wolves argues that the Great American Frontier was one big trash pile of buffalo carcasses, Manifest Destiny as state-sponsored terroristic litterbugdom.
We tend to call movies like this “neo-Westerns,” on the principle that they somehow rejiggered the white-hat/black-hat moral binary of “classic” Westerns. But most truly great classic Westerns are equally unsentimental, morally tough or amoral and strange, no matter how swoony their soundtracks and how glorious the Western imagery. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Johnny Guitar. The Furies. Winchester ’73. I don’t even like High Noon very much, but dammit, High Noon.
Do we think Sandler knows about any of these movies? Is it possible he just saw Django Unchained and The Lone Ranger and figured he might as well do a Western? Does he just love Blazing Saddles? Maybe, we all love Blazing Saddles. The irony of something like Ridiculous 6 is that it adds in lots of content that could never be in those older Westerns — burro crap and the word “pooper” come to mind — but it’s actually much more sentimental and cute and simple than any of the movies it’s nominally parodying. Even Blazing Saddles had a bitter point: The brutal joke Mel Brooks was making in Blazing Saddles was that everyone in Old West America was a racist bastard — and, maybe by extension, everyone in America is still a racist bastard. That idea was carried up by Tarantino in his (fascinating, frustrating) Westerns, which aren’t necessarily comedies but are definitely funnier than The Ridiculous 6.
The campfire scene ends, Rob Schneider shoots a horse, the burro farts.
The three half-brothers go out to a remote cabin, where they find a wild incoherent caveman-type swaddled in animal fur. This caveman-type manages to explain, via excessive noises and freakish body movements, that Frank Stockman had wild crazy sex with his mom, and he was the product.
Yes, he is another half-brother. I truly don’t know who the actor is, he’s covered by facial hair and furs, and I’m distracted by the realization that The Magnificent Seven remake from last year featured an almost identical character played with identical incoherence by Vincent D’Onofrio. I’m retroactively wondering if The Magnificent Seven was the actual parody, and Ridiculous 6 is Sandler’s sincere attempt to create a vision of the Old West.
“What you gonna do about it, Beaver Breath?” screams a mean white criminal to a Native American woman. “HOW HE KNOW MY NAME?” responds the Native American woman.
Steve Buscemi appears. He’s playing a lunatic doctor. Buscemi is an original Sandler cameo artist, the most Lynchian part of Billy Madison, he sang Spandau Ballet into the final freeze frame of The Wedding Singer. It occurs to me that I almost certainly first saw Steve Buscemi in an Adam Sandler movie.
Second genuine laugh of the movie when Luke Wilson appears as “the drunk guy.” He’s so the drunk guy that he manages to hold onto a full glass of whiskey even while he’s being beaten across a tavern by Harvey Keitel. Luke Wilson used to look like the saddest guy on the volleyball team. Now he looks a little wounded and broken. Things are looking up!
“If Frank Stockburn is your father, raise your hand,” and six people onscreen raise their hands. At last, nearing the hour mark, these are the Ridiculous 6! Terry Crews just appeared onscreen, and things continue to look up. Crews has already taken over the movie, with Wilson as his sidekick. Wilson says, “I can hold my breath for six minutes,” which somehow sounds funny, and then Crews says, “I can play the piano with my d—,” which somehow sounds endearing.
The camera tracks in close to Harvey Keitel. They’re doing a whole fake-horror thing with a scary doll, Adam Sandler is doing his “FIRST YOU EAT THE PIG, THEN YOU BURN” throaty voice. I’m fairly certain you can see a shadow from the camera, or some other piece of equipment, fall on Keitel’s chin.
Harvey Keitel’s headless body keeps on firing guns for a full minute after his decapitation. Would definitely watch a whole Western about a headless gunfighter played by Harvey Keitel.
All six half-brothers have a long campfire bonding over how great their life will be when they meet their dad. They even sing, a talk-sing-y ditty that sounds a lot like the tracks Sandler used to compose for his comedy albums.
You might think that some of the comedy of The Ridiculous 6 would come from the fact that all the brothers are so different, that they can’t agree on cockamamie schemes for making money, or maybe that they even don’t initially get along before getting along. Just, for instance, to look at another Western defined by racial tension and a number in the title: the most fun central idea in The Hateful Eight is that everyone onscreen is pretending to be civil but seems to be precisely four seconds away from killing each other. The brutal joke being that in modern-day America, we are all just pretending to be civil and are maybe not too far away from killing each other. (And hell, who’s pretending to be civil, even?)
I guess the lack of tension is its own joke in Ridiculous 6, and Crews and Lautner, in particular, seem to be playing up the idea that the brothers are all fully sincere in their love for each other. Or maybe this is what happens when you decide to have six characters, and instead of coming up with defining personality traits, you just call around and see who’s available: Terry Crews, great, Taylor Lautner, heard of him, let’s get a Wilson, Schneider’s gotta play somebody, then there’s this other guy, seriously, who is this guy with the hair and the furs, he looks so familiar!
Here’s John Turturro as Abner Doubleday, the creator of baseball. The joke of the scene, see, is that Doubleday enlists the Ridiculous 6 to play baseball with him, but then Doubleday just invents all the wacky rules of baseball so that he can win. (He also invents the “shortstop” position by calling an Asian player “shortstop.”) This scene lasts forever and is the kind of thing that makes you yearn for the days when cruel studio executives and confused test audiences conspired to eradicate long, pointless scenes in comedies.
Terry Crews is always funny, he’s stealing this movie like he stole all the Expendables, but Luke Wilson is really selling his role. He is haunted by a mistake from his past, and that mistake is, paraphrasing here, “I was the personal bodyguard for Abraham Lincoln, and when I snuck off to take a crap, John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.” We see Lincoln die. Didn’t we just see Lincoln die in Timeless? and obviously Lincoln died in Lincoln. Why is this a trend?
Jon Lovitz shows up as a super-rich guy, hosting a poker game with notable modern-day celebrities playing notable Western celebrities. David Spade plays General Custer, somebody I don’t recognize is playing Mark Twain, but obviously, I’m supposed to recognize him. None of that matters, because the Ridiculous 6 are heisting this poker game, which means some of them are dressing up and the guy who’s been covered in facial hair and furs is dressed normally…
Oh, dude, that’s Jorge Garcia! Who played Hurley on Lost! I’m remembering how great it was that Lost was clever enough to take a character who in any normal Hollywood context would be “the second-best friend slash comedy relief” and give him a whole tragic arc with a romance and an ultimate ascension. This seems like a step back, but I have to admit, he’s giving a better performance than Vincent D’Onofrio did in The Magnificent Seven.
“I just dropped some satire on your ass, General!” says Mark Twain. I still can’t figure out who the actor is playing Mark Twain, but he also says “Make it rain like Twain!” which makes me laugh. I think that’s laugh No. 3.
Right about now, Blake Shelton walks in as Wyatt Earp, and you have this miserable tableau I can’t get out of my head, David Spade and Blake Shelton and whoever the HELL is playing Mark Twain.
They’re all ramping the farce way up, and I guess the humor here is supposed to come from playing these larger-than-life historical figures as doofball man-children. But I wonder if there’s a deeper truth to this scene: If the movie is arguing that the moral and cultural authority figures of an earlier generation (Mark Twain! Wyatt Earp!) were exactly as adolescent and dumb and racist and sexist as the absolute worst exemplars of modern-day dudedom. That, in fact, this is the natural state of power: horrible men who don’t care about anything but sex and money and their own personal brand.
This is a deeply depressing idea. Recent events provide further evidence.
The brothers find a giant rock shaped like a penis and two testicles, and they talk about how it looks like a penis and two testicles. God, to be in the room when someone suggested that joke, to hear the response, to be there for the meeting with the production design team!
Is the plot important? The guys have done a lot of scores (only taking from bad people) so they can add their total up to $100,000. The movie pays attention to the steady addition of money — just like Happy Gilmore, with Happy winning those giant checks, or Mr. Deeds, still the least convincing movie ever made about a normal man inheriting $40 billion dollars.
Although Mr. Deeds does seem to contain some personal biography for Sandler: At the end of the movie, Deeds uses his money to buy things for his fellow townspeople, a reflection of the true-life fact that Sandler seems to personally employ everyone he has ever met. “Needing To Get Money” was also the plot device of That’s My Boy, where Sandler owed money to the IRS. Owing lots of money to the IRS is the most “Rich People Produced This” plotline for a movie, right in front of “Regular Cool Guy Inherits $40 Billion Dollars But It Doesn’t Change Him And Also He’s The Best.”
I guess it’s just the simplest plot idea in the Sandler writing factory: “Why does the guy do the stuff in the movie?” “Because he needs money!” “Great, there we go, motivation.” Anyhow, the Ridiculous 6 make all this money, but then Adam Sandler kills Danny Trejo, who, by the way, disappeared for this entire movie until he returns to get killed.
BUT TWIST! It turns out that the Ridiculous 6’s father, Frank Stockburn, was conning them all along! See, he needed some money, but he couldn’t go anywhere without the law following him, so he told his biological son White Knife he needed money, and then set up this whole elaborate ruse.
This all leads to a long shootout, which involves the return of the Eyepatch Gang and lots of close-ups on that young actor in the Eyepatch Gang. He must be one of Sandler’s friends. Or a relative?
The final showdown between White Knife and his nefarious father takes place in a dark tunnel. It’s shot horribly, all in darkness with Nick Nolte giving expositional lines like “WHERE ARE YOU!” and “I’M GONNA KILL YA!” and “IT’S DARK IN HERE!”
And did I mention that White Knife’s fiancée is here now as a damsel-in-distress? That she’s somehow been taken captive by two different posses? I guess this could become part of the joke of the movie; if she was taken captive just one more time, it would be the comedy rule of three. Maybe you make a whole movie about her called Damsel-In-Distress, except then would there be a role for Swardson in that movie?
All the brothers go back to White Knife’s village, he gets married, everyone is happy.
Credits roll, and there are three revelations. First: That baby-faced actor in the eyepatch gang is named…
…a nephew, nothing wrong with that.
Second: Mark Twain was played by Vanilla Ice, so the list of “actors giving good performances in this movie” is now 1. Terry Crews, 2. Luke Wilson, 3. Steve Buscemi, 4. Vanilla Ice.
Last revelation: The cinematographer for the movie is Dean Semler, who won an Academy Award for best cinematography for Dances With Wolves but should have won an Academy Award for The Road Warrior.
To wash the stink off, I look up Once Upon a Time in the West, one of the best movies ever made, which is actually on Netflix (see, Netflix has some movies). For a period of my life, I would turn on Once Upon a Time in the West whenever I got home on weekends, or if I was feeling bummed on a weeknight. As fate would have it, Netflix “resumes” me at the two-hour mark – an eerie coincidence, since Ridiculous 6 ran for exactly two hours plus seconds counting credits.
It’s the scene where Henry Fonda’s black-outfitted bad dude, Frank, talks to Charles Bronson’s mysterious harmonica-playing cowboy. They’re inside a tavern, but outside the tavern’s windows, you can see people and horses and carriages passing by. Leone shoots long takes, and Henry Fonda died decades ago, but you can clearly see him breathing right there onscreen, in-out, in-out.
Have you watched Sergio Leone? You can laugh at his movies, or believe in them sincerely — they work both ways. People remember Leone for the wild high grand moments, the showdowns that lasted forever and the gunshots that sounded like cannons. Leone could talk a good theme game, he said The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly was about the madness of war, and Once Upon a Time in the West was about deconstructing frontier myths, and Duck You Sucker! was his response to the political radicalization of the ’60s.
But thinking too hard about Leone’s themes seems fruitlessly academic. He was a sensualist. He loved tough men and gorgeous women and guns and horns. But he also loved the little things, was okay just setting his camera down and watching Henry Fonda breathe. I guess maybe you think even comparing Leone to Sandler is unfair, comedy is different. I dunno. Leone sounds like a real loon dog, and his films are funny and beautiful. Sandler’s films were once funny long ago, have never bothered to look halfway decent.
And just to overthink Leone for a moment: In Once Upon a Time in the West, Henry Fonda plays a guy who is a kind of avatar for the frontier, a bad-guy hired gun with a long history of outlaw behavior. But he is trying to prepare for the new age. He allies himself with a railroad company and agrees to do their dirty work, the idea being that this way, he will survive the end of the frontier.
I wonder if this is what Adam Sandler is doing, with Netflix. He used to make movies, like Leone. Now he makes content. Does he care? Does he miss theaters? Or is it all the same to him as long as everyone gets paid? Ten minutes of Once Upon a Time in the West fly by, and I want to keep watching, Claudia Cardinale’s in a bath, Charles Bronson is shooting people, the blue of Henry Fonda’s eyes is the kind of thing modern movies need digital color-correction to achieve.
But the day is young, and there is much left to do.
Jared Sandler sighting!
David Spade narrates through a boozy high school reunion. “Reunions are strange,” he says. “They bring up a lot of feelings about your past.” Spade is styled to look like the saddest nobody in the world (think Walter White at the start of Breaking Bad except smaller but with clothes three sizes bigger). Sandler is his polar opposite, a best pal from high school grown into a cool dude in a leather jacket. Sandler isn’t doing a funny voice, so The Do-Over is already an infinitely better movie.
Spade’s character is named Charlie McMillan, and Sandler’s character, Max, says, “Charlie McMillan always loved himself a Bud Light!” Does Sandler still need to do product placement? Or is it just a reflex now, to fit brands into his movies?
Weirdly, in the scene that follows, it’s Max who drinks a Bud Light…
…while Charlie drinks a Corona…
…and this Corona becomes a symbol of the life he wants to lead, no I did not make this on Photoshop in two seconds; this is a shot in a movie that cost some amount of millions of dollars.
But actually, The Do-Over sets off with admirably straightforward gusto. The idea is simple: Max is a cool dude, an FBI agent who has everything, and Charlie is a loser, married to a woman who openly cheats on him, still working the same job he worked in high school. Max invites Charlie to come down to Florida and hang out on his boat. Here’s the establishing shot of Miami:
And here’s the establishing shot of Sandler’s boat:
And again, so weird, having established that this boat is a Bud Light boat, Charlie seems to only drink Corona. [NOTE: My editor later informs me that Bud Light and Corona have the same parent company, of course they do, we are all one in the holy corporate parent company.]
Charlie and Max drive the boat around Florida, get drunk, smoke weed. They see a boat full of beautiful women, and Max demands that the women show their breasts. They do! Then the women demand that Charlie shows his penis. He does, and they laugh! Then Max fires a flare gun at the girls, and then they drive away, drunk, stoned, stupid.
I don’t know why this scene works so much better than anything in Ridiculous 6. Maybe it’s because I deeply believe that movies about douchebags should understand that the douchebags are douchebags, and not explain every three minutes that they’re actually pretty good people deep down. We’ve all known true douchebags. They sit around a campfire singing about how much they loved their dad and their half-brothers. Douchebags love money and the most objectified version of women (or men; douchebaggery knows no orientation) and booze and drugs. And the unrepentant comedy of The Do-Over so far is how David Spade is playing some version of a successful yet melancholy grown-up — he’s got problems, but none of them are financial — who secretly just wants to be a cool douchebag like the guys in beer commercials.
“We were goofy teenagers again,” he says, getting stoned on an inflatable raft being pulled through the waves trailed by a yacht that is currently being steered by a keg stand.
They catch a large fish, and Adam Sandler beats the fish to death with a police baton, and blood splatters all over Spade’s body. It’s horrifying and hilarious. The point of the movie so far is that Sandler is a super cool dude, and two things occur to me. First, is it possible that this is actually somewhat close to the role that the “real” Adam Sandler plays in other people’s lives? Like, if you’re David Spade and you’re lying around the house wondering what to do with the Rules of Engagement residuals, does Adam Sandler show up one day in a Corvette wearing a fitted leather jacket saying, “Dude, we got a movie, be in Miami in five minutes?” Does he just put these things together on the fly, like making a movie is the easiest and most fun thing in the world? Why overthink it? Why ask the director (who you hired) to do a rehearsal? Why ask the guy who shot Road Warrior what it means to have “Multiple Planes of Action”?
The follow-up, more likely possibility: Sandler has been for a long time — by all obvious accounts; he doesn’t do press that isn’t Conan or Jimmy Kimmel Live — a happily married family man and also the head of a production company, the main product of said company being himself. Are these films some weird form of therapy for him? A chance to hang out with old friends, to drive boats around the tropics, to be in close proximity with beautiful women half his age? And he’s not doing this as some sort of midlife crisis trip to Vegas: This is his job, he needs to fire this flare gun at those girls for the movie, he needs to ride this inflatable for the movie, they need to get this Bud Light keg for the movie?
If either possibility is remotely true, it doesn’t make Adam Sandler a better filmmaker. But it certainly makes him more interesting.
The boat explodes, and in front of some truly terrible green screen, Max speeds away into the night with Charlie.
“I made us disappear,” Max says. “I faked our deaths!” Max has given himself and Charlie a new chance at life. He wasn’t actually an FBI agent, but he did work at the city morgue, and when a couple of fresh bodies came in, he stole their identities and put the bodies on the boat, so now Max and Charlie can assume their identities. Charlie is briefly horrified by this…
…until he goes to his own funeral, which features Sean Astin (who long ago volunteered to be for Sandler what Peter Lorre was for Humphrey Bogart) giving him a eulogy. “Predictable, reliable, dependable,” he says. “I’m not just talking about my Ford F-150. I’m talking about Charlie McMillan.”
Meanwhile, Max watches his own funeral, where Nick Swardson appears as a mysterious guy who loves Dunkin’ Donuts.
Product placement? Artistic decision? Swardson just picked up some Dunkin’ Donuts on the way to the set? Dunkin’ Donuts was the plot of Jack and Jill, remember. Then again, maybe I need to recode my relationship with product placement. Wasn’t Mad Men just an artisanal Coke commercial?
The boys decide that they’re going to assume the identities of the dead men, and Max says he found a key hidden in one of the corpse’s butts. This key leads them to Puerto Rico, and inevitably, to a huge house. They love his huge house, they run into every room of this house and squeal with delight at the house’s awesomeness.
It is the dude version of that moment in The Holiday when Kate Winslet first sees the house she’s borrowing from Cameron Diaz, and she runs through every room in the house screaming with glee. That scene is the worst thing Kate Winslet has ever done, but now I’m wondering if Adam Sandler has secretly become the male Nancy Meyers. He used to make movies about young men acting like children, but now that the men in his movies are pushing or beyond 50, maybe the obvious manchild joke remains the same, but the deeper joke is that everybody seems to be a divorced rich guy embracing things because people have let them down. Nancy Meyers is a highbrow consumerist, great at capturing the particular decadence of upper-class home design, whereas Sandler’s films are oddly straightforward at capturing the lizard-brain consumer impulses of the average half-drunk dude. A big house! A pool! “Dibs on the Ferrari!”
Catherine Bell from JAG swings by the pool. She’s their next-door neighbor and she seems very impressed by Max and Charlie and their big house and their pool and their tablet device. We won’t immediately objectify this character.
Never mind, but say what you will about a scene that starts with Catherine Bell from JAG in a threesome with Luis Guzman and David Spade, this scene does end with a close-up on Luis Guzman’s (stunt double’s?) testicles falling close to David Spade’s face.
Michael Chiklis swings by, as a rich neighbor who is upset that Charlie had sex with his wife (aforementioned JAG star). I briefly think that The Do-Over is going to be a comedy of manners set amongst the retired rich Americans of Puerto Rico, sort of Sexy Beast meets Old School, and Chiklis will be the bad guy. But then a bunch of guys with guns swings in, there’s a long action scene that looks terrible, and the guys go back to America.
They’re trying to find the wife of the dead man whose identity Charlie has stolen. The wife is played by Paula Patton, and we won’t immediately objectify her, “Your wife has a very nice body” says Max, never mind.
The boys meet-cute with Paula Patton. They slam into her with a Winnebago, and then they kidnap her.
“She’s grieving,” says Max, encouraging his pal to hook up with Paula Patton. “Which makes her vulnerable. Which means you have a shot.” Then Max tells Charlie more fun advice: “Say nothing, and then f— her in the mouth with your tongue.”
I think we’re halfway through this movie, and now it’s horrible, but I’m leaving open two possibilities which could transform my understanding of the movie. First possibility: Max is actually the villain of this whole thing. He has admitted that he is actually a guidance counselor, not a coroner, and generally seems to be lying about everything all the time.
Second possibility: A meteor will strike the Earth at the one hour mark, and the rest of the movie will just be static shots of a ruined world, and all we will see are Dunkin’ Donuts signs and empty Bud Light cans and Ford F-150s that are still standing up despite the carnage, because they are predictable and reliable and dependable.
Charlie has sex with Paula Patton. I saw Warcraft, and this is worse than Warcraft, and Warcraft started with a pregnant orc lady giving birth to an orc baby.
Matt Walsh appears as a character who has some plot importance, but then someone compliments his shoes, and he says, “I know a guy at Nike.”
So it turns out that the dead guys — the corpses whose identities Charlie and Max stole — were working on a cure for cancer, an oddly self-important plotline to airdrop into this extremely featherweight action-comedy. Further airdropping occurs as we discover that Max has colorectal cancer. “It’s not a cure for cancer!” says Charlie. “It’s a cure for Max‘s cancer!”
There was probably a way for this movie — which an hour ago was about Adam Sandler firing a flare gun at the girls who just showed him their boobs — to become a movie about an elaborate corporate conspiracy to prevent Adam Sandler from being cured of colorectal cancer. I admire insanity on principle, there are so many boring things in the world. But when insanity is delivered in a boring way, it’s the worst of all possible worlds.
Speaking of unexpected things: Kathryn Hahn plays Max’s wife, who explains that everything that has happened in this movie was an elaborate plan by Max, who needed help solving the mystery of who killed his doctor, or something.
Now here is something worthwhile. Paula Patton reveals that, in fact, she was the villain behind everything that happened in The Do-Over, the architect of all their pain.
“Did you really think that a woman in mourning would let two strange buffoons in her house,” she says, “And run around in a slutty Barbie outfit, and let one of them bang her? All I had to do was push my tits out, and you followed them like horny teenagers!”
So I guess, at least, maybe Sandler and his industry have collectively realized that there’s something kind of messed up about parading super attractive women in front of the camera, while steadily-graying dudes leer at them onscreen and off? Obviously, this is just having your cake and eating it, like a lot of douchebags who leer at women and then say, “I’M ONLY KIDDING, IT’S A JOKE ABOUT BEING HORNY!” like what the world needs now is more jokes by horny dudes about horny dudes for horny dudes. But I am intrigued by this new self-awareness.
“I would’ve rather f—ed you,” says Paula Patton to Adam Sandler, all tied up by an evil henchman. Then Paula Patton turns to the evil henchman and says, “Put a bullet in his head.”
For the first time today, I laugh not with humor but with ecstasy, the kind of laugh you get watching an action scene in Fast Five or a musical number from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Paula Patton is officially the first character I have cared about today. I’m rooting for her. I hope she gets away. I hope she’s like Cameron Diaz in The Counselor. I hope she’s like Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction.
“I’m so tired of women lying to me and f—ing me over!” says Charlie, punching Paula Patton in the face. I’ve never rooted for anyone more than I’m rooting for Paula Patton.
There’s a long slow-motion fight scene between Paula Patton and Kathryn Hahn, and the degree to which they GO FOR IT in this scene only underscores how barely Sandler himself ultimately showed up for this movie. The fight’s all set to “Crazy For You” by Madonna, and suddenly I’m imagining that Madonna herself could walk onscreen, a cameo she only agreed to if Sandler allows the movie end with Madonna and Paula Patton and Kathryn Hahn putting a bullet in his head.
Instead, the movie ends with cancer cured, basically, and Max plays with his little kids, secretly a good guy, after all. And all that stuff with the booze and the babes and the “f— her in the mouth with the tongue” was just a con, GOD GUYS DON’T TAKE THIS STUFF SO SERIOUSLY WE JUST DID IT FOR THE LULZ.
And so at the end of this movie about two horrible middle-aged men who pretend to be children and are awful to everyone and get everything they have ever wanted because everything they did wound up curing cancer somehow… at the end of all this, they triumphantly jump off a cliff together, just like Thelma & Louise, except the cliff’s not that high and they land in water and they don’t die.
I have to clear my head. I have to stop staring. I go for a run. The air is salty, the wind’s blowing eastward from the ocean, the palm trees tilting in the breeze.
It occurs to me that there is one character we’ve never seen in an Adam Sandler movie, or at least not in any of the movies Sandler has directly overseen through Happy Madison, the movies which feel like they are his, even if he’s never technically directed them. His characters might be nice guys or nice douchebags, they might be hedonists seeking redemption or they might be dudes who like Bud Light seeking cancer cures. Some of them you might describe as “losers,” even though they inevitably win (their long-lost son’s love, the climactic golf match, the money, man, the money).
But Sandler has never played someone who worked hard when they were young and continues to work hard now that they have gotten older. Maybe you think “work” as a concept for a funny movie is baseline-boring because, for decades, the typical Hollywood comedy has taken for granted that it’s better when main characters don’t have any obvious financial concerns. Sometimes I think the Original Sin of all feature-film comedy comes from Caddyshack, one of my favorite movies and a total structural mess, the mess reflecting how a movie about working-class caddies at a country club became via excessive improv more about the members of that country club. I’m not saying Caddyshack would be better without Rodney Dangerfield or Chevy Chase, no, it’s a masterpiece. But it does feel like every character in Hollywood comedies today floats along without any financial stress or concern. They’re all golfers, not caddies.
Whereas Sandler, god love him, is a workhorse. He makes two, sometimes three movies a year. That’s just movies he’s in, not counting the times Happy Madison tried and failed to make Nick Swardson and Rob Schneider a star. Maybe the product is lazy, but there’s a lot of the product. It’s like he’s desperate to be busy, or anyhow, to appear busy.
I wonder why he hasn’t explored that side of his personality. I wonder if he even conceives of his work that way. Comedy has trended personal and confessional since Sandler started working, but I think even Sandler would admit his comedy format hasn’t evolved much in over two decades. (That could be a badge of honor: He self-realized by 30, and it made him a kamillionaire.)
But comedy doesn’t have to be confessional, anyhow. Never forget the end of Louie season 5, a TV show that symbolized the whole new notion of comedy as tragic philosophy. In the penultimate scene of the finale — maybe it’s the end of the show, Louis CK seems pretty over Louie — the main Louie character, who has overthought his comedy and his whole life, proudly declares: “Farts are funny!”
And Sandler’s work is proof that farts are funny until they aren’t. Hell, I listened to “The Longest Pee” a million times, and that was before I started drinking beer — Corona, of course, I was 17 — and then I finally got the joke.
Except as I jog back to my house, I realize that I’m so wrong. Sandler has played a workaholic a couple of times. In Jack and Jill, he plays twins, and one of them is a guy who looks and acts like you suspect Adam Sandler looks and acts in real life, and then the other twin is a woman played with a wildly over-the-top outer-borough Noo Yawk accent. (This accent vibes autobiographical if you consider that Sandler’s a Brooklyn-born New Yorker, though it equally vibes mean if you consider that Sandler’s an NYU grad raised in New Hampshire.)
The whole plot of Jack and Jill is that Jack is working too hard. He has to get Al Pacino to star in a commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts. This is not a subplot. It’s the whole plot of the movie. It almost tears his family apart. He tries to prostitute his sister to Al Pacino so Pacino will do the commercial. Then Jack dresses up as Jill and seems thisclose to sleeping with Pacino so Pacino will do the commercial. His wife, Katie Holmes, is bummed that he’s treating his sister so badly. It’s a real sad thing for the whole family. Eventually, brother and sister reconcile. Then the movie ends with Pacino doing the commercial, which involves a musical number. Pacino watches the commercial and says, “This must never be seen.” The point of this expensive movie full of product-placing Pacino seems to be, “There are more important things in life than working hard on getting big stars to help sell products,” which sounds like a lesson that nobody needs to learn besides Adam Sandler.
There’s another movie where Sandler played a workaholic, one of his worst and most fascinating. Click is a concept movie — Sandler has a remote control for life! — and it’s full of some of the dumbest slapstick he’s ever done, plus a movie-length gag about Bed Bath & Beyond.
But in the back half of the movie, he keeps fast-forwarding through his life and lands in his late middle age. He’s got gray hair, he’s lost everything, his wife left him, his daughter loves her new dad. He’s at his son’s wedding — and he paid for the wedding, we learn, it’s all he can do for his family, he has all the money and nothing. Sandler has never looked better, more convincing, sadder. “Linger” by the Cranberries plays in the background, one of the Cranberries even plays herself. It’s how I always remember Sandler; I wonder if that scene is what he fears the most.
I get home and decide that maybe I’ve been underrating Sandler. I’ve also been watching these movies on a computer screen, on the principle that it seems to be how a lot of people watch Netflix. What am I doing? This is cinema! At least it deserves to be on a television set!
The beginning of Sandy Wexler is true leafblower of cameos. Lorne Michaels! Conan O’Brien! Jon Lovitz! Janeane Garafalo! They’re all talking about a guy named Sandy Wexler, “one of those fringe Hollywood managers,” they say. “There was no YouTube, there was no Vines,” says Garafalo, dialogue already out-of-date. “Back in the ’90s, you needed a guy like Sandy to be seen.”
We’re seeing Adam Sandler as Sandy wandering around Los Angeles, Tower Records and Green Day at Whiskey-A-Go-Go. The talking heads are speaking in the present-day, but Sandy is walking around in 1994. Maybe coincidentally, that was the last year before Adam Sandler became a movie star, depending on if you count Airheads (nobody counts Airheads).
I’m losing track of the cameos. Judd Apatow. Darius Rucker. Former Mark Twain actor Vanilla Ice. Chris Rock. Dana Carvey. David Spade…
…and Kevin James, not playing himself though. James is a ventriloquist managed by Sandy. Sandy himself is a middle-aged guy that Sandler plays with a variation of his baby voice. The film establishes early — literally by having celebrities say this — that Sandy has a big, fake laugh and he lies a lot. Presumably, there’s more to the character than this, since those are two pretty lame jokes to hang a whole character on. [NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: There is no more to the character than this.]
Sandy meets a beautiful young ingénue Courtney Clark, played by Jennifer Hudson. She’s performing as a swan at a Six Flags kids’ theatrical show. He tells her that she’s going to be a star. He promises almost immediately that there shouldn’t be any funny business between them, since he’s her manager and also maybe because Courtney looks young enough to be his niece. Then again, this is Hollywood.
There’s an Atkins diet reference. I’m fairly certain the Atkins diet didn’t become a thing until the early 2000s. I’m also fairly certain that Sandy Wexler is intending to do for the ’90s what Wedding Singer did for the ’80s. One notable problem with this, full credit to Sandler, is that Wedding Singer basically invented ’80s nostalgia, whereas our culture has already advanced from ’90s nostalgia into nostalgia for a few weeks ago when you could go 10 minutes without North Korea coming up in conversation.
Sandy flies with Courtney to Alaska, where she’s from, so he can ask for her dad’s hand in management. (The dad is Aaron Neville, everyone is in this movie!) Specifically, he says: “I will always do what’s best for your daughter.”
Then he hangs out with Courtney under the Northern Lights. Courtney says she’s so happy to be here, with “The Northern Lights, and my new friend Sandy.” Because Jennifer Hudson looks so wonderfully young — full of hope and unbroken innocence — and Sandler looks like he just came from a photo shoot for a Stranger Danger pamphlet, my new friend Sandy sounds like something a Barbie doll whispers to a serial killer in the part of a movie right before the serial killer starts serial killing because his Barbie doll told him to do so.
Having sought out Courtney’s father’s blessing and promised, “I will always do what’s best for your daughter,” Sandy proceeds to make Courtney over, to make her a star. He takes her to a photographer, he gives her a cool new ’90s style, and she is only comfortable on camera when Sandy is around. Sandler is simultaneously playing Sandy like a savvy insider and like a little boy who barely seems to understand sex. It’s like seeing The Waterboy pretend to be The Player. “Is this Sandler’s Vertigo?” is something I mark down in my notes right about now.
The rhythm of the movie seems to be: Sandy loves Courtney, Sandy goes and hangs out with his other clients, talking celebrity heads explain what’s happening in the movie, repeat. Some movies are edited together, Sandy Wexler feels stapled. But there is a scene where Sandy hangs out with Kevin James, and both Kevin James and his ventriloquist dummy are wearing a jogging outfit. It is the funniest thing I have seen all day.
Sandy Wexler looks through a magazine filled with women’s clothes. “Well, she’d light up a room in that purple one,” he says, thinking of Courtney. His obsession with Courtney — and I can’t stress enough, their relationship so far is him asking to be her manager and her saying “okay!” — has become the whole plot spine of the movie.
Now, a key point of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is that the main character becomes (or is already when we meet him) a weirdo. Maybe he’s an outright pervert. He falls in love with a woman by following her around – stalking her, really. Later, after that woman is dead, he finds another woman and remakes her whole style — picking her hair, her clothes — so that she looks exactly like the first woman. This is obviously strange behavior, and one joke of the movie used to be that you accepted the main character was fundamentally a decent person because he was played by Jimmy Stewart, by then a symbol for decades of fundamental American decency. The easy read on Vertigo is that it’s about making movies and/or watching movies. Stewart falls in love with an image the way we fall in love with people on a movie screen. And Stewart makes a real woman into an image, ignoring what makes her herself, like the hair color of your girlfriend is just a variable you can select from a Character Design screen in a video game. Mind you, this is all top-level Vertigo stuff, there’s more to the plot, you should check it out.
Actually, here in 2017, Vertigo has evolved beyond subtext. We’re coded to expect that middle-aged single men who radiate decency are secret weirdoes; “necrophilia” at this point would be a best-case-scenario. And anyone with an even partially active social media account accepts the truth that image defines modern life, or consumes it. (Think how casually we use “stalking” now, it’s a synonym for “seeing what other people do on social media.”)
But is Sandy meant to be Sandler’s version of Jimmy Stewart? Like, Sandy is a compilation of Sandler’s nicest instincts — a baby-voiced sweetheart, currently loathed by everyone, but you can guarantee they’ll be cheering for him by the end. Is Sandy Wexler actually insane? Is Sandy Wexler a confession? Sandy, Sandler, Sandy, Sandler…
The full Vertigo moment. Sandy arrives to take Courtney to a party, and Courtney emerges, wearing the purple dress he found in the magazine. “It’s from your dirty magazine page, you weirdo!” says Courtney. Jennifer Hudson manages to make that line reading sound whimsically romantic, retroactively earning the Oscar all over again.
Sandy kills a raccoon outside of Courtney’s house with a baseball bat. Trigger warning: This is so bloody and over-the-top that I need to share it with you. I laugh every time I see this. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? I’m realizing that I am a big fan of Aggro-Sandler and that maybe a problem with all his latest movies is he doesn’t let out his primal rage as much anymore. Actually, the primal rage has appeared twice, both with wildly bloody results: once against the fish in The Do-Over, and now with this raccoon.
Sandy’s pants are now covered in raccoon blood, so Courtney is only offering to do laundry (and Jennifer Hudson earns a Nobel Prize) when she says, “You’re insane, Sandy. Take off those pants.”
Lamorne Morris plays a record company publicist. He is dating Courtney. He spends a long minute telling Sandy all about email. “You can send a document to another computer clear across the country, in a matter of minutes!” Look how wacky the ’90s were! is real thin gruel for a comedy, and now here we have a whole feature film to prove it.
Jane Seymour swings by playing a sexy old trophy wife who lives next door to Sandy. Her husband is comically old, and she throws herself at Sandy because ????
This is — if you’re keeping track — the second wife-next-door to throw herself in Adam Sandler’s direction. I’m now imagining a whole film, The Wives Next Door. I’m imagining so many things, mind racing away from Sandy Wexler.
Third Eye Blind’s “Never Let You Go” plays over a montage of the 1995 Grammy Awards. “Never Let You Go” came out in 2000. Maybe you think, “Hey, come on man, it’s a comedy, it doesn’t need to be precise!”
There is a frankly stunning recreation of Paul Reiser’s 1995 Grammys opening monologue. You see Reiser in actual archival footage on a small TV screen backstage — and then, in the background, you see the stage, with a double pretending to be Reiser. The sheer precision of this — the fact that the movie doesn’t just say “It’s 1995, and Dane Cook is hosting the Grammys!” — proves that someone involved in Sandy Wexler cares about chronological authenticity.
I forgot to mention, there’s a whole running joke in the movie where Sandy lives in the pool house of a wealthy foreigner named Firuz. Firuz doesn’t live in the house, but he won’t let Sandy go anywhere but the pool house, and whenever Sandy goes home, Firuz’ dogs chase him. This joke has already reappeared about nine times. Firuz himself has only appeared via remote audio. I think I recognize the heavily accented voice. It can’t be him. No, surely not, it can’t be…
Courtney by now has become a huge star, and she’s sad that she can’t go outside without being mobbed. You know, I was thinking that Sandy Wexler was Sandler doing his Vertigo. That there’s supposed to be something strange and confessional about Sandler making a movie about transforming Courtney into an image for his own perverse romantic ends. (How did he meet her? When she was playing “The Ugly Duckling” — the Ugly Duckling, of course, being the original and truest parable about how much better life is when you grow up to be beautiful.)
But now I’m realizing: Courtney becomes a star in 1995, the same year Billy Madison came out. Courtney has already been through the runaround with Hollywood, falling in and out of professional and personal relationships. Is Courtney Adam Sandler’s stand-in for Adam Sandler? And is Sandy meant to be the older Sandler, coaching himself back to the path of righteousness — don’t forget where you came from, stay close to the people who got you here, hire your friends forever?
Terry Crews plays a wrestler, also managed by Sandy. His big joke in the movie is that he’s competing in a Wrestlemania-type event, where he will be defeated by an evil wrestler with a gigantic butt, and the wrestler’s whole move is sitting on people with his gigantic butt. I guess you could say these films are sexist — wait let me, THESE FILMS ARE SEXIST — but I have to admit, nothing in any of these movies has been shot with as much gauzy romanticism as this evil wrestler’s grotesquely oversized butt.
Having established that Sandy is awful at his job, giving his clients terrible advice like, “Don’t work for Pixar,” and for that matter carrying on a silent love-crush with his very young protégé, the movie now moves fully into a sentimental mode, arguing that actually, Sandy is a great-perfect guy. “How do you take care of everybody, and never worry about yourself?” asks Courtney, right before she sleeps with him, practically forces herself on him, really she kind of f—s him with her tongue.
Courtney actually kisses Sandy when they’re sitting by the pool. I’m reminded of a roughly equivalent scene in Billy Madison, where a never-better Bridgette Wilson They Lives Sandler through cinema’s most unexpected swimming pool fight scene. It’s maybe the only time in an Adam Sandler movie that the love interest has been aggro – though this was something Paul Thomas Anderson picked up on for Punch-Drunk Love. And I’m not holding up Billy Madison as, like, a shining example of gender equity (a couple minutes later Wilson sings “Don’t I have a nice rack?”). But it’s a long way from there to here, from “these people are both kind of crazy” to “this one person is obviously a maniac and this sane person is throwing herself at him.”
I’m realizing that the obvious comparison with the Sandy-Courtney romance is to A Star is Born, with the notable un-twist that in A Star is Born, the older male mentor figure ultimately stands revealed as a vain, declining alcoholic, and in Sandy Wexler the older male mentor figure who always seems like a nice guy turns out to be a saint. I guess you could say comedy is supposed to be lighthearted, but comedy is also supposed to be funny, and since nothing funny is happening besides raccoon-killing, I’m left pondering if Adam Sandler thinks the problem with A Star is Born is that it’s such a downer.
To be fair, this isn’t just a Sandler thing, this weird comedy trope where a character is obviously horrible at his job but then everyone agrees he is great at his job. This was a core premise of the American version of The Office, which moved firmly from the realm of “sharp satire” to “lovable character comedy” when it established that Michael Scott, by any obvious measure a horrible (hilarious) human being, was actually a pretty good salesman and even a pretty good boss. This slipstreamed into Parks & Recreation, which started from the concept of “people in local government are bureaucrats who either work hard for no ultimate purpose or accept defeat that they can’t change anything and thus become part of the problem” and then evolved into “the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department is the Algonquin Round Table of the new millennium.”
Obviously, not everything needs to be a satire. Both of those shows were great. But it can feel ameliorating — too soft, ego-stroke-y, censor-approved, this weird cliff in comedy where even the most unrepentant social deviant stands revealed as a good, functional provider. And since every Adam Sandler movie has to land on the idea that Adam Sandler is playing a pretty good guy who will ultimately achieve tremendous financial success, it seems worthwhile to consider the People’s History of Adam Sandler Movies, seen from the other side of the equation. Of course, these awful adolescent rage-monsters keep succeeding. See Mediocre Masculinity, How it Fails Upwards.
Sandy and Kevin James the Ventriloquist go in for a pitch session with UPN. The joke here is that Sandy is basically dying and can’t speak, and also UPN haha, so Kevin James needs to spend the whole scene playing Sandy as a ventriloquist dummy. Behind them, there are period-appropriate posters for Moesha, The Sentinel, and Sister, Sister.
“You have the biggest, best, strongest heart in this whole miserable town,” is what Courtney says to Sandy. Courtney — who by this time has become a Whitney Houston/Madonna-level phenomenon — seems to be in this movie largely to reiterate that Sandy is a good person. But she says she’s going to get married to someone who runs a chain of coffee stores in Seattle.
This makes Sandy sad, and I have to admit, there’s something intensely likable about Sandler when he plays sad. I think about him getting choked up in Big Daddy when the forces of “Actual Human Society” took his adopted son away. Or him in Punch-Drunk Love, a movie I didn’t understand the first time I saw it because I didn’t know what loneliness felt like yet.
Weird Al Yankovic appears. He was one of Sandy’s first clients. He’s filling the same purpose as Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer or Giuliani in Anger Management, this late-appearing celebrity who blesses the Sandler character. Yankovic weirdly gives the best performance in the movie, playing himself as an infuriated truthteller. “You tell people what you think they want to hear,” says Weird Al. “If you really care about someone, you tell them the truth.”
So we’re deep past the part of this movie when anything even remotely funny is happening, and deep into the part of the Adam Sandler movie when sad things start happening to Adam Sandler, and people tell Adam Sandler he’s great, and ultimately pretty soon things will start going well for Adam Sandler.
Courtney gets into a car on the way to her wedding. Most brides going to their wedding have this thing, a bridal party, and also maybe they see some of their family members, maybe anyone in their life besides the main title character played by Adam Sandler.
The car is being driven by someone with a familiar voice. That person is Firuz, and he is clearly meant to be Middle Eastern. So yes, of course, he’s played by Rob Schneider, of course, of course, of course.
Firuz drives Courtney not to her wedding, but to the Griffith Park Observatory. What’s up with the Griffith Park Observatory all of a sudden? There was that cool scene in La La Land and that cooler scene in Bojack Horseman, and now surely this scene won’t just be Adam Sandler kidnapping a woman on her wedding day so she can marry him instead.
Nope, that’s what it is exactly. Her dad is there, they’re getting married, and the Griffith Park Observatory has been redesigned to show the Northern Lights. For some reason, Sandler drops the Sandy Baby Voice accent for most of this scene. The idea is that he’s “coming clean,” finally telling the truth about everything, and at one point he says, “I dye my hair.”
I have no idea if Adam Sandler dyes his hair, but maybe he does, maybe the confessional part of Sandy Wexler is that this is how Sandler imagines himself: a hard-working down-on-his-luck guy who gets by because of his close friends. I forgot to mention, his wife’s in this movie, too, and his daughters. Is he training the next generation? Or does he just want to spend time with them? Is that why his movies can never fully commit to their own vulgarity? Because, for him, that vulgarity long since became a pose? He knows people come to his movies for butt jokes, so he gives that to them, but what he really wants to do is tell a love story about Hollywood and friend-families? What does he want? Why is he doing these movies to us?
In a quick rush of talking heads, Sandy Wexler establishes that Sandy and Courtney got married, and Sandy became wildly successful, employing everyone who has ever been in Hollywood. Actually, he has specifically employed most of the talking heads we have seen, so it’s like a whole fading comedy generation has assembled here in this film to thank Adam Sandler for what he has done.
Sandy and Courtney appear in the present, flanked by their two children. Jennifer Hudson looks the same as she always does, and Adam Sandler looks like he’s been aged up a bit. He looks good old. I still believe in him, despite this traumatizing day of horror. He’s doing a Noah Baumbach movie. Tarantino wanted him to be in Inglourious Basterds. That new Netflix movie with him and Chris Rock, directed by Robert Smigel? I’m there.
Jennifer Hudson is somewhat well-known as a singer, you could say. She won an Oscar, won a Grammy, performed at the Super Bowl, performed at the White House. She has sung throughout this movie, no song particularly memorable, but that’s what happens when you make a movie about a young singer coming up in Hollywood and focus the movie on her wacky manager with a baby voice. You would naturally think that if Sandy Wexler ends with a musical number, she would sing it.
Instead, as the credits roll, she mostly dances in the background, while Adam Sandler sings “There’s No Business Like Show Business” — a song which originally appears in “Annie, Get Your Gun.”
Here’s a fun fact I didn’t know until I Googled “There’s No Business Like Show Business” while the end credits rolled on Sandy Wexler: The original version of “Annie, Get Your Gun” ends with Annie Oakley, the great sharpshooter, deliberately throwing a shooting match against love interest Frank Butler. This is because she has been advised — by Sitting Bull! — that she should throw the match. That way Frank will be happy, and they can get married. That’s what happens, not in real life, but in the show. Anyhow.
Mike Judge appears to tell a story about how he used to prank-call Sandy Wexler using his Beavis and Butthead voices, and while the end-credits roll, there’s a very comedy-album track playing of one of those calls, the gag being that Sandy doesn’t know Beavis and Butthead are cartoon characters. Then, for a brief moment, there is a video of Sandler and Judge recording these lines. Judge finishes his voiceover, and Sandler — looking all-business, looking like a man who doesn’t waste time, looking first the first time today like himself — says, “All right. Good.”
It’s not good. The joke is lame. The execution worse. But maybe best not to overthink. Maybe you find a formula and you stick to it, and Sandler found his formula long ago and will stick to it until they stop paying him, and if they stop paying him, then some other they will. And maybe all these movies are midlife douchebag fairy tales about hanging out with your best friend and making lots of money. But can you blame him? He hangs out with his best friends and makes a lot of money.
The inauthentic part of all this is how sentimental his films are. But that’s his appeal, maybe. Adam Sandler knows sometimes you feel sad; like you wish you knew your dad better, or you wish your life had turned out differently, or you wish you could tell the girl you discovered at Six Flags who now has a big career that you’ve always loved her. Everybody wants wish fulfillment, and Sandler films fulfill your wishes: big houses and bros and the part of every city that looks like Miami. You can go on late-night shows wearing comfy shorts and T-shirts that look exactly like T-shirts you wore when you were a teenager, except these shirts are always brand new, you’ve got people who make those shirts brand new. And Jane Seymour and Paula Patton and Catherine Bell from JAG and Smoking Fox will throw themselves at you, and you can make derogatory jokes about other ethnic groups, and laugh when your pal does a funny accent. Do what you want to do. When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.