Combustible Celluloid
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With: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice, James Caan, Milo Ventimiglia, Blake Clark, Meagen Fay, Tony Orlando, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Nick Swardson, Peggy Stewart, Luenell, Ciara, Ana Gasteyer, Eva Amurri Martino, Justin Weaver, Susan Sarandon, Todd Bridges, Abigail Klein, Colin Quinn, Rao Rampilla, Alan Thicke, Ian Ziering
Written by: David Caspe
Directed by: Sean Anders
MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use
Running Time: 116
Date: 06/04/2012

That's My Boy (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Child Is Father to the Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For some reason, Adam Sandler's latest seems less annoying than usual. When he first appears on screen, doing his annoying mumble delivery (with a Boston accent), you worry that it's going to become grating, but it becomes possible to tune it out. And, yes, there are plenty of crude, stupid jokes, but for the first time in a long while, these jokes come with a kind of carelessness, rather than laziness. In other words, there's a life force behind them. Sandler and his crew are actively not caring about what we think, rather than passively doing nothing. And that's enough to elevate this one slightly above some of its more odious predecessors.

The other reason this one works is that Sandler has given leading man duties to Andy Samberg, who forever has a place in my heart for his brilliant "Saturday Night Live" short Lazy Sunday. As the hero, Samberg, gets to flash a sheepish smile and learn -- in that great Hollywood tradition -- how to "lighten up." The story begins with Sander's character Donny Berger, in middle school, falling in love with a sexy teacher, Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), who seduces him and teaches him the ways of love. When they're caught, Donny becomes a star, while Miss McGarricle becomes pregnant. There's a trial, she goes to prison for 30 years, and Donny is charged with caring for the child.

In the present day, Donny is a middle-aged slob, having spent all his celebrity earnings and deeply in debt to the IRS. His son, whom he named Han Solo Berger, has survived a terrible childhood, changed his identity to Todd Peterson, and become a successful hedge fund manager. He's about to marry Jamie (Leighton Meester) and become a full-time partner, even though he's constantly popping Xanax and worries over every little thing. Donny learns that a sleazy TV show will pay him the money he needs to stay out of jail if he can get Han Solo/Todd to visit his mom in prison in front of the cameras. (By the way, in case you're wondering, Sandler is, in real life, about 12 years older than Samberg.)

This is, of course, a "lie plot," in which one character spends the entire movie trying not to let another character find out about something, but in this case, the lie is generally forgotten in the commotion. Sandler's character is so good at enjoying the moment that the pressure of the lie is easily lifted. From there, Sandler's behavior charms everyone, and we simply wait until Han Solo/Todd is charmed, too. And Sandler is actually charming, because he knows that, even though he's an obnoxious slob, Donny is comfortable with himself, and that comfort catches on. Better still, he remains truly in love with just one woman, his Miss McGarricle, and has found peace in that.

Sandler once again tries some of his tricky casting here, but this time it works. For example, Vanilla Ice shows up in what looks to be a cameo. Ha ha, it's Vanilla Ice. But then he returns as a character with an interesting connection and chemistry with Donny, and it works. I'm not saying Vanilla Ice gives any kind of good performance, but he works far more effectively than just a silly name-dropping cameo. Likewise, James Caan shows up, recalling Al Pacino's shameful appearance in Jack and Jill, but he gets to keep his dignity. Another great cameo comes at the end, but is too good to spoil.

Certainly this isn't any kind of well-crafted work of art, and there are some terrible things in it, perhaps most of all the stereotypical Asian servants in the mansion, if not the "shock" humor around bodily fluids, an overweight stripper, and a "saucy" old lady. But I like that Sandler -- who continues to fascinate and frustrate me -- has at least stuck a baby toe out of his comfort zone for this one. Perhaps it helps that he has a new director Sean Anders and screenwriter David Caspe, who were not already in his stable of buddies. Their film is a huge, sloppy mess, far too long, but with some rowdy and rambunctious laughs.
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