Adam Sandler continues to make audiences laugh -- ''The Wedding Singer'' and ''The Waterboy'' earn box office success

Oh, Adam! Silly, deranged Adam. What on earth is your momma gonna do with you? Spouting crazy gibberish to imaginary penguins. Howling like a wounded wildebeest and tackling your teachers to the floor. Picking fights with Bob Barker. Who told you this was an acceptable way for a 32-year-old to act?

Millions of sniggering accomplices, that’s who. Thanks to not one but two blockbuster movies, The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy, 1998 was the year Sandler — a human spitball in the eye of sophistication and taste — sailed to the head of the comedy class. And definitely it was the year when his matted-down Brillo ‘do and goofed-out grin landed on comedy’s Mount Rushmore, right next to the crumbling visage of Jim Carrey’s talking butt cheeks.

That’s not to say this was a shock to anyone but the unconverted. Since breaking out on Saturday Night Live with freakazoid flair (who could forget Cajun Man or Opera Man?), Sandler has assembled a frat-brat fan base through such lunkheaded flicks as Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. His gimmick is as simple as his characters: Young man boasting the emotional intelligence of a blow-dryer gets sucked into trouble, yet manages to dumb his way to redemption. ”There’s just something really safe and likable about seeing this guy up there,” observes his SNL bud David Spade. ”Even if you’re only 5 years old, you poke your friend and say, ‘At least I’m not as dumb as that idiot!”’

The critics would certainly second that. ”His existence in our cultural consciousness implies intellectual sloth of previously unimagined proportions,” sniffed Newsday in its Madison review. To which the incredibly highbrow New York Post added that Sandler ”is a staggeringly untalented waste of space.” What, you think falling over while trying to whizz into a kiddie urinal is easy?

Admittedly, no one’s confusing our man-child du jour with Buster Keaton (the press-allergic star couldn’t care less about legitimacy, anyway). But The Wedding Singer at least offered evidence of a broader appeal — even a wink of semiserious acting! Playing a shlubby entertainer who falls for an already engaged waitress (Drew Barrymore), Sandler toned down the potty humor, turned up the charm, and earned glowing reviews. Box office receipts quickly followed — to the tune of $80 million — transforming his off-kilter dunce cap into a crown shimmering with mainstream acceptance.

Longtime Sandler fans may have scratched their heads a bit: Was the Duke of Dork letting the air out of his whoopee cushion? But relief came soon enough, with Waterboy‘s half-wit cracker Bobby Boucher. In this demented tale of one freak’s unquenchable devotion to football, his momma, and, you know, water, Sandler was back in blockheaded bliss: whimpering like a disturbed child, hurling his body all over the screen, and feel-gooding us into a bumbling heroic climax. Critics were right there to sack him, of course, but what better defense than Waterboy‘s $130 million-plus box office touchdown and a two-picture deal with New Line worth more than $35 million? In Sandler’s upcoming Columbia project, Big Daddy, he’ll examine the nuances of parenthood, as a dude who adopts a kid to impress his girlfriend.

”I think we’re just getting started with the adventures of Adam,” predicts Chris Rock, another SNL pal. ”The first movie was Adam goes back to school. Then Adam plays hockey and golf. Adam falls in love. Adam plays football. Now Adam’s a dad. Next…he goes to the moon. Yeah, Sandler saves the world!”

Not a bad idea. After all, it’s Sandler’s world now — we just laugh in it.

The Waterboy
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