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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Editor’s Note: It’s been way too long since our last Friday Five, so I thought I’d resurrect this rotting corpse of a feature for a very special Adam Sandler-centric piece. Enjoy!
I am so interested in the career arc of Adam Sandler. He just fascinates me. Maybe it’s because his bizarre on-screen antics just don’t match up with his sorta-bland personal life. Maybe it’s because he came out of nowhere to become the most successful SNL cast member of all time. Maybe it’s because he’s seemingly dedicated a significant amount of his time and money on trying to make his talent-less friends movie stars. Whatever it is, Adam Sandler can just be the worst.
I should put a qualifier in front of the word “worst.” I’m sure there are worse Sandler movies than what will inevitably appear on this list (in fact, there are). I’m choosing to discount some of his earlier work, like his first movie Going Overboard as well as some of his cameo appearances, such as ones in awful films like The Hot Chick and Deuce Bigalow 2. I’m going to discount his animated abomination Eight Crazy Nights as well as his primary supporting roles like Air Heads (a movie I actually feel is underrated). I’m also going to note that “worst” may also be the wrong word in some cases in that maybe I was just personally disappointed or something, …I don’t know. All I know is, here’s my list:
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008)
Zohan was probably disappointing because of the high expectations the name “Apatow” brought with it. Fresh off hilarious hit movies like Knocked Up and Superbad, I was super-psyched to see what Judd Apatow could do with Sandler’s budget and Hollywood clout. I went into Zohan expecting just so much more than yet another generic-Sandler character who “hilariously” clashes culture with everyone on screen while eventually finding love with a lady waaaay too hot and/or young for him all wrapped in a 90-minute bow. Though I was mostly disappointed with Zohan (as were audiences — it stands as one of Sandler’s lowest-grossing mainstream films), I actually ended up somewhat liking some aspects of the movie. In spite of its formulaic plot, there’s a bit of abject weirdness that permeates the production. But it’s not enough to lift the movie into the of likability, let alone watchability.
50 First Dates (2004)
In high school I was a huge fan of the Sandler/Barrymore romantic comedy The Wedding Singer. Though I’m sure it hasn’t aged well, at the time I found it to be very clever (it was one of the first “let’s rehash the 80s!” things to come out) and it had a great soundtrack to boot. Needless to say I was excited for the second collaboration between the two principal actors, as their chemistry was just so darn strong. Directed by Peter Segal (he made Tommy Boy!), 50 First Dates is the story of Sandler wooing a woman (Barrymore) who only has a 24 hour memory span. It’s also apparently “based” (the quotations indicate loosely) on a true-to-life story. I can get behind the high concept, but unfortunately, it’s just not a very good movie. Not at all. Featuring a bevy of penis and puke jokes, Dates is underwritten schmaltzy, sappy crap. The supporting performances are roundly bad as well (Sean Astin is particularly horrible), but the worst has to be Barrymore, whose chemistry with Sandler in the aforementioned Wedding Singer is palpable but just doesn’t work here. It’s also one of the first times the audience is supposed to buy Sandler as some kind of hunky sex god (and it unfortunately won’t be the last).
Funny People (2009)
I know, I know… I actually kinda like Funny People. I kinda like it a lot. I have a complicated relationship with this movie. I feel it is the best Apatow-directed film, but it’s hard not to also feel the disappointment of what could have been as well. It was, after all, an outright flop at the box office and received less than kindly by critics (though I’d argue it’s looked back on quite fondly now). Funny People opened to mixed-to-positive reviews during the summer of 2009 and was expected to do Knocked Up-level of numbers (though honestly that was probably never going to happen). Long story short, Funny People flopped hard, grossing only about two-thirds of its budget at the box office. To add insult to injury, awful Katherine Heigl film The Ugly Truth roundly out-performed Funny People, adding further fuel to the then-interesting Heigl-Apatow feud. Though I did end up liking the film, I also have serious problems with it. It’s about 30 minutes too long, features a bit too much Leslie Mann, and the ending left me a bit cold (Spoiler: Sandler’s character basically learns nothing). Supporting performances from Seth Rogen and Aubrey Plaza heightened my enjoyment (along with dark comedy Observe and Report, Rogen has a good 2009 as an actor). Funny People was released at the height of the Apatow machine’s power, and audiences heartily rejected it. I appreciate its post-hindsight under-dog status, but I think that in the end, the less than stellar reception it received probably did Apatow’s ego a little bit of good, even if Sandler learned nothing.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)
Featuring not one, not two, but three controversies, Chuck & Larry disappointed audiences to the tune of 186 million dollars in late-summer 2007. Controversy #1) The film served as yet another sad example in the long line of “gay panic” media. Controversy #2) Rob Schneider’s “yellow-face” character incensed and enraged entire communities. Controversy #3) At least two separate entities complained that Chuck & Larry had been plagiarized from existing source material (what’s the worse thought… that Chuck & Larry exists, or that someone would want to take credit for it?). None of these has anything to do with my complaints about it, however. Chuck & Larry is a truly awful film, playing simultaneously off of gay stereotypes whilst immediately condemning homophobia (you can’t have it both ways). It also features a truly abysmal supporting performance from Jessica Biel (seriously, how does she get work?), helped bolster Kevin James into an A-list comedy star (Paul Blart didn’t help either, but at least that film had some charm), and once again forces the audience to buy into the idea that Sandler is some kind of sex symbol (seriously, why does he keep insisting this is a thing?). But its biggest crime is that it just isn’t funny. There’s not a laugh to be found (oh and unearned sentimentality rears its ugly head once again).
Grown Ups (2010)
Grown Ups was legitimately the worst mainstream movie of 2010. I’ve referred to it as Adam Sandler’s excuse to hang out with his friends on vacation for two months, and that’s really all it is. There is nothing likable or enjoyable about this movie whatsoever. The story summary in short: Sandler and his four closest friends all used to play on a peewee basketball team together. When their beloved coach dies, they reunite to relive memories and re-evaluate their (horrible) lives. Featuring Sandler’s best real-life friends David Spade, Rob Schneider, Kevin James (fatty fall down … funny), and unfortunately Chris Rock (who should just stick to stand-up), Grown Ups is an abomination of a movie, even for low-brow summer fare standards. Like 50 First Dates, it relies heavily on gross-out body humor (this time including urine, cremated ashes, and bunions) and also piles on the schmaltz and unearned sentimentality time and time again. With a legitimately talented cast, Grown Ups should have at least featured some laughs. It does not. This movie should be avoided at all costs.
Further adventures: 2011’s awful Jack and Jill *and* Just Go with It, 2002’s Mr. Deeds, and 2000’s Little Nicky
Actual Good Sandler Comedies: 1995’s Billy Madison, 1996’s Happy Gilmore, 2003’s Anger Management