‘That’s My Boy’ manages to hit and miss at the same time
Some Adam Sandler fans may have thought he owed them one after the release of the cinematic abomination that was “Jack and Jill,” in which he plays both sides of a brother-sister set of “identical” twins, and the film was so bad that even a cameo by the great Al Pacino couldn’t salvage it.
“That’s My Boy” either intends to appease the old school Sandler fans by trying to channel characters such as Billy Madison and Bobby Boucher, or it unintentionally proves that the former “Saturday Night Live” star can still lure them into a theater seat regardless of what might be on the screen.
Either way, in light of a recent string of uncharacteristically tame and PG rated movies such as “Grown Ups,” “Zookeeper” and “Bedtime Stories,” Sandler attempted a return to the raunchy, unpredictable late-1990s form that made him such a hit, and in some ways he succeeded with “That’s My Boy.”
Sandler plays Donnie Berger, a teenager who, through an inappropriate student/teacher relationship, fathers a son at an extremely young age. The mother of the child, Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino) is sentenced to 30 years in prison because of the ordeal and Donnie is left to raise the unfortunately named Han Solo Berger (Andy Samberg) by himself.
Because of the incident and the desirable nature of Ms. McGarricle, Donnie is strangely hailed as a hero, and his status leads him to national fame and fortune stemming from sponsorships and movie deals.
Cut ahead a couple of decades through a flawlessly achieved 1980s retro montage, and Donnie is a broke alcoholic who owes the IRS $43,000 in back taxes. Picture high school-level Billy Madison if he never outgrew his R.E.O. Speedwagon obsession, about 25 years and 25,000 beers down the line.
By this time his son, who has changed his name to Todd Peterson, is a successful hedge fund investor who is on the verge of marrying sorority girl sweetheart Jamie (Leighton Meester) and making partner at his firm. Todd has turned into somewhat of an under-confident, neurotic wimp because of his unorthodox and benign upbringing, and he maintains throughout most of the film that both of his parents were killed tragically in a big explosion.
Donnie concocts a plan to make the money he needs to stay out of jail by convincing a slimy television host to pay him if he can arrange a surprise reunion between him, Todd and Todd’s mother at the prison she’s been incarcerated at. So Donnie finds out where Todd’s family is staying for the wedding, he makes an unexpected appearance under the ruse that he’s Todd’s best friend and unpredictable hilarity ensues.
Sandler plays the character of Donnie like he might have if this film was made 15 years ago and, aside from the spotty Boston accent that intermittently reverts to squeaky toy, he’s generally funny, as long as you can deal with the fact that the butt of every one-liner joke somehow ends with a prepositional curse word. Really, it’s a mystery.
The advantage to watching many movies that Sandler throws his hat into is the dialogue seems to regularly go off script, and there appears to be a good amount of witty improvisation in “That’s My Boy” as well.
The disconnect in this movie comes from the lack of chemistry Samberg and Sandler have as a father-son duo. Granted Sandler technically portrays his friend in the movie and not his dad in the eyes of the rest of the cast, but Samberg’s character is far too compulsive and languid to be seen as believable. That might sound silly when keeping in mind how raunchy and coarse the script was, but there comes a point where the audience is forced to dislike Todd, and even though his personality gradually benefits from the presence of Donnie and their nearly abhorrent shenanigans, there’s really no coming back from it.
It’s obvious, though, that Sandler swung his Hollywood weight around during pre-production, and the movie is filled to the brim with awesome cameos from James Caan, Susan Sarandon, Todd Bridges, Dan Patrick, Erin Andrews and probably most importantly, Vanilla Ice. New York Jets fans may never forgive head coach Rex Ryan for making a Tom Brady-loving appearance as Donnie’s Boston-based lawyer, and fans of half-decent acting probably shouldn’t either.
“That’s My Boy” is Sandler’s first R-rated movie since 1996 and is a crude, over-the-top, and sometimes just down right gross film that suffers from a few stale scenes and a couple of awkward on-screen interactions. But Sandler engages the characters in the movie in a familiarly unassuming manner and sways the audience towards his side, even though it’s not really the right one. It’s also almost vintage Sandler, mostly hilarious and generally entertaining, and those fans who wanted to see him make a comeback as a rude and misguided but altruistic social genius should be happy with this one. Everyone else on earth, probably not. Either way, the proverbial plot twist towards the end would make Larry Flint squirm, so taking the kids along won’t make for the best family dinner conversation.
“That’s My Boy” is now showing at Loma Theater at 9:15 p.m. daily.