Friday, June 25, 1999

Boys will be boys in Sandler's pop playground

Movie: Big Daddy

Posted on Fri, Jun 25, 1999 at 4:00 AM

***
Big Daddy
Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Studio: Colombia Pictures
Website: http://www.spe.sony.com/movies/bigdaddy/
Release Date: 1999-06-25
Cast: Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart, Cole and Dylan Sprouse
Director: Dennis Dugan
Screenwriter: Steve Frnaks, Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Music Score: Teddy Castellucci
WorkNameSort: Big Daddy
Our Rating: 3.00

The Wedding Singer proved that, with the right tweaking, Adam Sandler's knucklehead act plays almost as well with young women as it does with their frat-rat boyfriends. "Big Daddy" attempts to keep both camps satisfied, but still works better as a beer-soaked fantasy of male bonding than as a date movie for the next generation of ill-prepared moms and pops.

In this new outing, Sandler is Sonny Koufax, a guileless underachiever who works one day a week as a toll collector. The rest of the time, he lives off funds earned in a long-ago legal settlement, taking advantage of the opportunity to put off adulthood for a few more years and sleep in on weekdays. (He says he hasn't been up early enough for a McDonald's breakfast in over a decade.) Any similarity to every other role Sandler has ever played is purely coincidental.

Guy values established, the story widens its aspirations with the arrival of Julian (twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse), a wayward tot who comes under Koufax's care through unrepentantly contrived circumstances. At first lisping his way through the standard stranded-tyke sob scenes, Julian is soon swearing like a sailor -- "I wipe my own ass!" he proudly announces. And there's naught to do but succumb to the guilty-pleasure axiom that foul-mouthed kids are simply always funny -- call it The Tatum O'Neal Rule.

Sandler is a perfect choice for the role of indulgent dad, his own perpetual childishness bringing added comic depth to the life lessons Koufax teaches his eager-to-learn ward. Traditional schooling takes a back seat to instruction in the manly arts, including outdoor urination and picking up women (though not at the same time, thank God). Appearing to take his parenting cues not from the writings of Dr. Spock but the satanist directive, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," Koufax is the father you always wanted but probably never had.

It's a boy's life, all right, and it doesn't make room for any remotely sympathetic female characters. Every one we see is either a vicious harpy or (in the case of Koufax's dopily doe-eyed love interest) an emotionally stunted career girl who immerses herself in her work to avoid the dangers of romance. So much for appealing to a new demographic.

In its final reel, "Big Daddy" betrays its essential anarchy in favor of a sudden and disappointingly sentimental desire for everyone to "Do the Right Thing." We're still a few years away from a film that will end the way this one should have: with dear old Dad spiriting his surrogate son away into a world of ticket-scalping escapades and lunch buffets at the local nudie bar. Too bad Sandler won't be the one to do it; he's already had his shot at parenthood.

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