Big Daddy

He’s not happy. What else you got?

Adam Sandler has become one of the most bankable stars of the decade, with an impressive list of box-office and video winners under his belt. It’s a shame that his films aren’t as consistently good cinematically as they are at the box-office; since he became popular, they have ranged from the sublime (Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer) to the abysmal (Billy Madison, The Waterboy). Now comes Big Daddy, a film that has more in common with Wedding Singer than any of the other films, but lacks that comedy’s charm, replacing it with hackneyed aaw-gosh sweetness which is the last thing we want to see from Sandler.

Many parts of Big Daddy‘s premise are by now trite: Sonny Koufax, a law school graduate who decided to throw his life away and become a toll collector, stumbles upon a 5 year old kid named Julian, evidently the son of one of his pals, who he never knew had a son. The boy’s father just left the country on business and isn’t expected to be back for a few months. Sonny decides to keep the kid at his house for the night and give him to social services in the morning.

When he comes to social services, posing as the father, to give the kid away to a foster family, he changes his mind and decides to keep the little bugger. He does it so that he can impress his girlfriend (Kristy Swanson), who insists that Sonny “refuses to move on to the next stage of [his] life.” He hopes that this kid can strengthen their volatile relationship much like a woman might get pregnant to save a marriage.

Much to Sonny’s surprise, his girlfriend has already dumped him for an old guy with a five-year plan and he finds that he is stuck with the kid until social services can line up a foster family for him. Inevitably, Sonny and Julian build a relationship of their own, Julian becoming a son and Sonny a father. But all can’t be that simple as social services discover that Sonny isn’t really Julian’s father and threaten arrest.

I can’t say that I was bored watching Big Daddy because it is an utterly harmless, lighthearted film. Admittedly some of it is amusing, and some irresistibly cute. But David Dugan, who worked with Sandler previously on Happy Gilmore (aside from lensing losers such as Problem Child and Beverly Hills Ninja) proves incapable of maintaining the hilarity, nor can he introduce any credible pathos to keep us emotionally involved with these characters.

Part of the problem, I think, is that Adam Sandler isn’t effective as the responsible type (although watching Adam the parent is better than Adam the retard as in Waterboy). He has much more success playing the lovable, desparate loser, such as he did in Gilmore and Singer than he does playing a father figure. I’m sorry, but it’s painful to watch Sandler carefully bathing a 5 year old — he has never been that sort of persona and he fails to turn himself into one for the role.

The action builds up to a mind-bogglingly asinine courtroom scene, in which Sandler has to deliver a pseudo-inspirational speech about responsibility. Somebody gag me. His movies have thus far avoided this sort of phony sentimentality, and even the most awful ones were better for it. Whoever inspired Sandler (who, as I hear, was the final authority on the film’s script even though he didn’t write it) or the writer to go for the lurid hokeyness present throughout the last third of Big Daddy should be credited for putting the stake through the film’s metaphorical heart.

Big Daddy isn’t an insult to humanity, it’s merely pure and constant mediocrity. The laughs are few and far between and the movie never succeeds in developing any sort of dramatic tension. I expected better from Sandler, even though I’ve seen far worse from him.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

Snitch

Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

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Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

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