Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, Julie Bowen, Frances Bay, Carl Weathers, Bob Barker, Richard Kiel, Kevin Nealon
Written by: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and some comic sexuality
Running Time: 92
Date: 02/16/1996

Happy Gilmore (1996)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Teed Off

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When he first assaulted America's senses by jumping from "Saturday Night Live" to the big screen, Adam Sandler didn't make much of an impression. He had his lowbrow fans, but many couldn't tell him apart from Rob Schneider or that guy from the Ernest Goes to Camp movies.

Everything changed when Sandler made Punch-Drunk Love (2002) with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Suddenly, it became clear that Sandler had soul; that he was capable of a great performance. So far his procedure had been to juxtapose his natural sweetness with an unholy rage. Anderson tapped into that and made it work in an organic and artistic way. So much so that Sandler has now made the leap from stupid comedies to year-end Oscar contenders like James L. Brooks' Spanglish.

Universal has now re-released two early Sandler films -- Billy Madison (1995) and Happy Gilmore (1996) -- in a two-pack DVD set. And it's fascinating to go back and look at them with the fresh perspective of Sandler as a growing artist rather than as an obnoxious buffoon.

Happy Gilmore is the more beloved of the two, notably for its scene on the golf course in which the lead character gets in a knock-down, drag-out fist fight with Bob Barker. The plot has Happy (Sandler) as a wannabe hockey player who tries and fails each year to make the professional league. With money tight, his grandmother (Frances Bay) loses her house and Happy has just so many days to raise the money to get it back.

That's when he discovers that his slap shot works wonders on the golf course. A trainer (Carl Weathers) helps guide him through a series of tournaments. Of course, there's a bad guy (Christopher McDonald) and a cute girl (Julie Bowen), and we know where everything is going.

But Happy Gilmore provides Sandler with a perfect outlet for his character. Around his grandmother, he displays not a shred of irony or meanness. Happy truly loves his dear sweet elder, and treats her with total respect. These scenes are offset by the golf course scenes, in which Sandler goes crazy with frustration over his terrible putting skills (who among the golfers out there hasn't?).

The filmmakers behind Happy Gilmore don't find many surprises with this material and can't quite tie together Sandler's two sides, but it's a fascinating attempt, and very often, a funny one.

Unfortunately, Billy Madison doesn't fare so well. Sandler begins the film by being overly obnoxious and fails to find a sweet side to balance it. In this film, he plays a spoiled rich brat who must go back to school to complete grades one through twelve to take over his father's company. As usual, a villain (Bradley Whitford) tries to stop him and a pretty girl (Bridgette Wilson) falls for him.

These two films represent perfectly the rest of Sandler's career, which is spotted with total failures and partial successes, along with the one great film, Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler has recently turned 40, and so we hope that he leaves behind the juvenile junk and focuses more on the soul-searching.

DVD Details: Both DVDs come in new Special Editions, mostly containing outtakes and deleted scenes. Director Tamra Davis (Guncrazy, Crossroads) provides a commentary track on Billy Madison.

Best Buy Co, Inc.