THAT'S MY BOY
Lord knows I don't want to encourage him, but if Adam Sandler absolutely must continue to star in comedies released under his Happy Madison Productions banner, could the rest of them at least have the good sense, and bad taste, to be rated R?
I ask this even though the star's latest, director Sean Anders' R-rated That's My Boy, isn't really any better (although it certainly isn't worse) than most outings of the Grown Ups/Just Go with It/Jack & Jill variety. Detailing the hi-lar-ity that results when Sandler's odious, beer-swilling Donny reconnects with his resentful, straight-laced son (Andy Samberg) on the eve of the young man's wedding, the movie is typically Happy Madison: obviously staged, repetitive, and overlong (114 minutes!), and boasting a supporting turn by a Sandler crony - Nick Swardson here - so gruelingly unfunny that you think the casting was part of an elaborate prank, but whether it's a prank on the audience or Swardson himself isn't clear. (As for the de rigueur product-placement that infests Happy Madison presentations, the chief recipient of Sandler's love this time is Budweiser, a can of which he guzzles in nearly every scene. It's actually a nice departure from all the fast-food shilling the comedian has done over the years.)
There are the requisite obnoxious routines, such as Donny's resurrection of the "Wha-a-zzu-u-u-u-p?!?" catchphrase with a bunch of strangely willing participants, that just turn maddening - and destroy all narrative credibility - when repeated incessantly. There's the awkward trotting out of D-list celebrities (Todd Bridges, Ian Ziering) and somewhat more respected names (Tony Orlando, Alan Thicke) whose involvement suggests future D-list status. For the second time in a row, a Happy Madison production throws an easy paycheck to a venerated member of The Godfather's cast, though I'm relieved to report that James Caan, in That's My Boy, isn't treated quite as awfully as Al Pacino was in Jack & Jill. (Memo to Robert Duvall's and Diane Keaton's agents: If you see a call coming in from the Happy Madison offices, do not pick up that phone.) Oh, right ... and the movie never made me laugh. I came close when a macho blowhard and closet dancer got clocked in the head and, before passing out, expressed his pain in jazz hands, but by then, there were only two minutes left in the movie, and it was too late to matter.
Yet while there was no audible enjoyment on my end, I'd be lying if I said the film, with David Caspe credited as screenwriter, didn't make me smile a lot more than I expected. Released from the constraints of keeping his shtick family-friendly, Sandler performs Donny's foul-mouthed, gross-out sketches with almost ferocious zeal, and never once drops character; given Donny's strangled honk of a voice and complete lack of couth (which nearly everyone on-screen somehow finds charming), you can think his former tabloid star is off-the-charts-irritating and still admire Sandler's committed comic chutzpah in the role. In truth, Sandler gives the exact opposite of one of his traditionally lazy, cynical, bored Happy Madison portrayals here, and his delighted liberation seems infectious - Samberg, Leighton Meester, Milo Ventimiglia, Will Forte, Peggy Stewart, and Vanilla Ice, offering a cheerful self-parody, appear to be having a blast playing it down 'n' dirty. (As the voracious middle-school teacher who gives birth to 13-year-old Donny's baby, Eva Amurri Martino is delectably inappropriate and is becoming a physical and vocal dead-ringer for real-life mom Susan Sarandon - which Sarandon's cameo makes spectacularly evident.) That's My Boy may be a bummer, but thanks to the allowances its R rating provides, it's at least an energetic bummer.
ROCK OF AGES
As the '80s-themed jukebox musical Rock of Ages debuted on stage in 2005 and Glee didn't air until 2009, it's hardly the fault of the former - now a film musical by director Adam Shankman - that it ends with a sappily spirited rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," just like Glee's pilot did. But the song's arrival certainly underscores the movie's unfortunate similarities to a weak episode of the former TV phenom; it, too, is filled with awkward musical mash-ups and characters suffering logic-defying storylines, and the rock numbers peppering the soundtrack have been so Broadway-homogenized that they barely resemble the hits you once knew. Still, and also like a weak episode of Glee, it's all relatively painless. There are enjoyable bits with Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a fired-up Malin Akerman, and Mary J. Blige, happily, shows up to remind us what a gloriously non-Auto-Tuned voice sounds like. Plus, Tom Cruise gives an intensely witty physical performance as a barely ambulatory hair-metal god still able to cause pandemonium with a shrieking rendition of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me." While Rock of Ages isn't exactly memorable, any movie that introduces Cruise by having the leather-pants-clad actor fall face-down into a jacuzzi can't be easily forgotten.