Directed by: Sean Anders (Sex Drive)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, Vanilla Ice, Tony Orlando
After giving Battleship a favorable review, I’m sure to hear from quite a few people for not giving this latest Adam Sandler vehicle the dreaded dismissive half-star and calling it a night. Strangely enough, That’s My Boy has all of the trimmings of a half-star film. It is, after all, a by-the-book Sandler film—with the usual trappings and window dressing, like his stock crew of misfit comedian buddies, and the strange vein that runs through so many of our star’s movies that involve turning the flabby Sandler into a supposedly irresistible sexual dynamo. The humor is the same as always, filled with goofy voices, random celebrity cameos, various and sundry bodily fluids and a cadre of actors cast for their aberrant looks as a means to cheap laughs.
But in spite of everything wrong with That’s My Boy—and there’s plenty—there’s something about it that subtly works. Director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and screenwriter David Caspe (TV’s Happy Endings) have created a movie that—while catering to the worst of Sandler—isn’t mean-spirited. While we have these physically or behaviorally odd characters — like an overweight stripper (Luenell, Think Like a Man) who works at a combination gentleman’s club/omelette joint, or the elderly grandmother (Peggy Stewart) who’s sexually defiled by both Sandler and Vanilla Ice—they’re nevertheless treated with an amount of respect. (Without giving too much away, it’s interesting that the two most physically attractive actors in the film are involved in the most obscene sexual kinks.)
Even beyond that, there’s an almost astute look at family dynamics—a really, truly dysfunctional family, but family nonetheless. The film involves Sandler as Donny, a generally uncouth lout who gained fame in the ‘80s for knocking up his high school teacher. Now, with the prospect of heading to prison for tax evasion, Donny butts into the life of his long-estranged son (Andy Samberg), who has turned his life around after a traumatic childhood of being raised by a teenage idiot father. There’s a surprisingly natural progression to their relationship—which is also handled believably—that gives the film slightly more weight than Sandler’s usual fare. (Of course, noting that this is better than, say, Jack and Jill (2011) is saying very, very little.)
Still, the movie’s just plain bad in most areas, despite getting quite a few things right. Thanks to cinematographer Brandon Trost, who directed The FP (2011) and has shot films in the past for Neveldine/Taylor, this is easily the best looking of Sandler’s pure comedies. And a fairly big role by a surprisingly self-aware Vanilla Ice shows that he’s improved his acting since Cool as Ice (1991). But even with these small victories, That’s My Boy remains a pretty ugly proposition that includes both the worst of Sandler and—despite a Replacements song on the soundtrack—the most threadbare and obvious aspects of ‘80s nostalgia all goosed with a tasteless, box-office-killing R-rating. If you’re reading this, this is not a movie you should see—unless you’re some masochistic Sandler completest. However, it remains an interesting film within Sandler’s filmography, if for no other reason that its finer points will be lost on the average Sandler fan. Rated R for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity.