Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Cinema File #12: "That's My Boy" Review

Dammit, another one! Something is definitely wrong with me.

That's My Boy, the most recent live action Sandler effort to date, is a movie about growth. I don't just mean its about growing up, though it certainly is. And yet, looked at in another way, its probably as much about accepting arrested development as it is about overcoming it. Still, what I mean is, everything about That's My Boy builds and grows on you from the beginning, starting at a point somewhere in the middle in terms of typical Sandler standards of comedy, and then getting better and better as it goes on until stopping at I'd say just below some of his better earlier efforts.

The story starts out as a comedic version of the Mary Kay Letourneau sex scandal from the point of view of the underage boy, now a grown man seeking to reunite with his now adult son and convince him to appear on a reality show to make a quick buck and dodge the IRS. Like most Sandler movies, the set up is quick and simple, the stakes are clear and easy to understand, and pretty much everything you need to know to understand the story is found out in the first fifteen to twenty minutes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and I think any more complexity might have bogged things down. Still, I'm curious how many Sandler movies this makes that ends with a race to stop someone from making a romantic mistake he or she will regret for the rest of his or her life. Come to think of it, it's the second one just this year alone.

When I said this movie builds, I mean it. I started out either not caring about or genuinely disliking most of the characters in this movie, but for the most part, pretty much every single one of them had won me over in the end. Andy Samberg probably took the longest, if only because the limitations of his role as straight man mean he's mostly consigned to being shocked and angry at the much funnier antics of his vulgar father. Also, I've never really been a fan of him generally, but once he softens and becomes less of a prick, I feel a lot better about him, which I guess was the obvious intent. I really thought the voice Sandler was affecting for this would just annoy the crap out of me, much like Little Nicky and The Waterboy, and while initially it was a bit hard to take, it too fell into place for me.

At about the half way point, once we get to the bachelor party and Uncle Vanilla Ice shows up, there's a tipping point where the steady stream of small chuckles and the occasional big laugh or two in the first half gives way to some really inspired stuff. Little touches like the increasingly insane Ice extended cameo, the running gag of the beer bottle weapon or Sandler's ever present beer can hand lead into a twist that I can easily say I wasn't expecting that could have fallen very flat, but is instead handled in a way that works surprisingly well for being so random and perhaps needlessly crass and disgusting. I mentioned the race against time ending, and even that moment shines, playing out almost as a spot on parody of prior Sandler movies that employed the same cliche without irony.

It isn't a perfect movie by any means, but the, I'd say 30% of the movie that does drag or outright fail is far outweighed by the 70% that falls nicely into the range of good to great low brow comedy. Will Forte and Nick Swardson once again prove that they are both individually and collectively the worst things to come to comedy since Chris Kattan. Tony Orlando shows up in a weirdly major side role as Samberg's awkwardly lecherous boss, and there's also a strange subplot involving James Caan as a violent priest that seems to come out of nowhere and exists for the soul purpose of having a priest fight a guy, maybe as a call back to the classic Bob Barker fight from Gilmore. And Milo Ventimiglia is a little hard to pin down for most of the movie. Once the aforementioned twist comes along and we learn more about the character, it comes into more focus, but until then, I found myself wondering what the point of his character was.

Overall, if you ignored That's My Boy the first time out, as most people seem to have done at least as far as the box office would suggest, I'd say check it out. At least if you're a fan of some of Sandler's earlier, more ernest efforts like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, or even his more subtle and heartfelt stuff like The Wedding Singer or 50 First Dates. In terms of the tone and the level of dark humor, it's probably closer to the earlier movies than the later ones, but it has some heart in it as well and ends on a high note, bringing back a joke at just the right time, when everyone's forgotten about it, and holding on it just long enough to not be annoying. It's typical Sandler, so if it's never been your thing, best to stay away. This isn't Reign Over Me, Spanglish, or Punch Drunk Love Adam Sandler.

Thankfully though, it's also not Jack and Jill Adam Sandler, which works for me any day
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