The Do-Over, Adam Sandler’s latest film for Netflix, opens on a truly galling image: David Spade. He is Charlie, and if his Dwight Schrute look didn’t already scream “cries-when-he-cums-pathetic,” well, his wife is mid-cuckolding, dirty-dancing all over her ex-husband, Ted-O (Sean Astin, unrecognizable), at their 25-year high school reunion. A glimmer of hope arrives in the form of Max (Sandler), Charlie’s old high school pal. He is Edgy with a capital ‘E.’ I mean, his nametag reads “Maxi-Pad” and he curses a lot. Max, ever the good sport, tries to raise Charlie’s spirits by recounting the time he showed the lil fella his “first pair of tits.” They belonged to Max’s mother. Apparently, Max encouraged Charlie to watch his Mom shower, as one does.
Anyway, before you can say deus ex machina, Max has convinced Charlie to accompany him not to see his mother topless, but rather on a trip aboard his luxury yacht. “I couldn’t believe it. I was having the best time of my adult life,” Charlie says in cringe-worthy voiceover. “It was like Max and I had never been apart. The years melted away and we were goofy teenagers again having nothing but fun”—before the camera cuts to Max swerving the boat and then to Charlie peeing all over the walls in a tiny bathroom below deck. These are two wild and crazy guys!
The plot only gets more batshit insane from there, involving hitmen, mistaken identities, an Eiffel Towering, and the cure for cancer. In one scene, on Sandler’s character’s advice, Spade’s Charlie fucks poor Paula Patton’s mouth with his tongue. Some things you can’t unsee, bro. It’s a movie so bad that Eddie Murphy should consider hate-watching it.
The Do-Over is the 11th bad Sandler joint in a row, and while a few of these were noble misfires—such as Spotlight helmer Tom McCarthy’s The Cobbler and Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children—most of these fall under “An Adam Sandler Film,” which denotes Sandler sleep-walking through a cookie-cutter plot surrounded by his back-slapping pals in an exotic locale. Sandler even admitted as much during an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2014. When the host asked him point-blank if his movies are just excuses for paid vacations, Sandler replied, “Yes. I have done that since 50 First Dates. It was written in another place. I said, ‘Imagine if we did it in Hawaii, how great that movie would be.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, that’s a very artistic idea.’ I’ve been doing that ever since.”
From Sandler’s POV, it must be heaven—getting paid millions to shoot a movie with your friends in X vacation destination—but for fans, these locales either feel shoehorned-in, like the bizarre Puerto Rico jaunt in The Do-Over, or prone to lazy racial tourism, as in the offensive South African stereotypes of Blended where, as one incensed South African critic wrote, “the ‘native’ people are divided into three categories: oversexed and leering, bumbling and inarticulate, or just bone lazy.” His last film, spoof-western The Ridiculous Six, had a dozen of its Native American cast members walk off the set over perceived racial and cultural insensitivities.
The Adam Sandler Formula has become so predictably bland that during the Sony hack, it was revealed that one of the biggest sources of anonymous employee complaints was Sandler Inc., with Sony workers arguing that they “continue to be saddled with the mundane, formulaic Adam Sandler films.” Further emails uncovered by The Daily Beast had Sony execs stating internally that Sandler “isn’t the guy he once was and nobody can make that better for him.” The Do-Over is Sandler’s second in a 4-picture deal with Netflix after decamping from Sony.
There is, of course, one person who can improve Sandler’s cinematic reputation: Adam Sandler.
Now, some only know of Sandler’s recent pitiable output, but for people of a certain age, he’ll always hold a special place in our hearts. He was the MTV goofball turned SNL goofball; the guy behind Opera Man, “The Chanukah Song,” and the biggest-selling comedy album in the history of Nielsen SoundScan. After he was fired from SNL, Sandler became a highly watchable presence on the big screen, portraying a revolving door of affable man-children in films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and Big Daddy.
Despite scathing reviews—the late Roger Ebert, in his review of Billy Madison, branded Sandler, “Not an attractive screen presence… he might have a career as a villain or a fall guy or the butt of a joke…”—audiences rooted for shlubby Sandler to succeed and/or get the girl. There was something about his blasé everyman-ness that inspired heaps of good will, and moviegoers responded in kind, transforming Sandler into the biggest comedy star in Hollywood. Even Mr. Deeds, an atrocious remake of Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, grossed $126 million at the domestic box office.
In the early to mid-aughts, just as Will Ferrell came on with a bolder, brasher man-child persona, Sandler even began to branch out and take acting risks—like his award-worthy turn as the boiling Barry Egan in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, an art-house flick that mined the warmth and vulnerability that made Sandler such a beloved film star, albeit in the service of a surreal romantic odyssey bursting in a kaleidoscope of colors. It’s as if Anderson distilled Sandler down to his essence: a bullied outcast in search of the great love that will, as Egan says, make him “stronger than anything you can imagine.”
Around this time, Sandler almost landed Jamie Foxx’s role in Collateral—Michael Mann, believe it or not, originally wrote it with Sandler in mind, starred in the touching post-9/11 drama Reign Over Me, and turned in two fruitful collaborations with his former roommate Judd Apatow: the hilarious action-comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and the comedy-drama Funny People. In order to star in Funny People, Sandler had to turn down a plum role he’d accepted as Donny Donowitz, aka The Bear Jew, in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
The 49-year-old Sandler certainly has, by general employment standards, a good thing going with his Netflix deal. He can make whatever movies he wants through his Happy Madison production shingle, and make them anywhere he wants. His last film, The Ridiculous 6, even set a record as the most-watched movie opening in Netflix history (a dubious honor, though, since the streaming service hasn’t released too many films). Sandler, however, needs to pushed—he’s been coasting on his A-list reputation for far too long, and audiences seem to be wising up to it. Perhaps Ebert was partly right: he could play “a villain or a fall guy” and embark on a fascinating character actor reinvention, or he could keep being “the butt of a [lame] joke.”
When Sandler agreed to a rare print interview with me at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, he addressed the critical mauling he’s taken of late. “I don’t really read ’em,” he said. “I hear about ’em, and have friends who called me up and told me how much they hated my last thing [Blended], and every movie I make I hear how they don’t like it. I don’t sit there and read ’em, but am I excited that they say stuff like that? You know, I wish they would calm down a little bit.”
Maybe Adam Sandler is doing just fine. Maybe the joke’s on us.