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In the world of film criticism, it seems as though if say you find Adam Sandler funny, you're committing an offense of the highest order. And while you'll never catch me wanting to watch Click, Little Nicky, or even The Waterboy ever again-- overall and flaws aside, I've still found a lot to like in his comedic work in movies such as The Wedding Singer, Anger Management, Billy Madison and You Don't Mess With the Zohan.
Yet it's also on display when he's working alongside other talents in dramatic performances such as in Paul Thomas Anderson's underrated Punch Drunk Love, James L. Brooks' underrated Spanglish and Mike Binder's underrated Reign Over Me. Gee, are we sensing a pattern? Yes, there is a Sandler prejudice and also Adam Sandler is extremely underrated. To this end, it seems as though very few individuals have realized the extent of his talent which goes way beyond the horrific character he created along with his frequent screenwriter Tim Herlihy in director Frank Coraci's The Waterboy.
Moreover, the Sandler influence seems to crop up everywhere from-- I swear-- a similar voice heard in some of Jon Stewart's impressions on The Daily Show to Jimmy Fallon basically trying to become the next generation's Sandler even going as far as to make his best film with Sandler's greatest female costar Drew Barrymore via Fever Pitch.
Yet where Waterboy forgets to incorporate the funny is by failing to successfully blend together the two ingredients that seem to show up repeatedly in the man's various characters whether created by Sandler or others including Binder and Anderson. In other words, the quintessential Sandler character is one that possesses genuine innocent sweetness and a boyish naivete mixed in equal measure with a Warner Brothers Acme stick of dynamite that's ready to explode.
A lot has been written about Sandler's good angel and bad angel schtick as the well-intentioned overgrown juvenile character we've witnessed in Madison, Happy Gilmore or Big Daddy (which co-starred Jon Stewart). Essentially, he seems filled with true sweetness yet he has the capability to move directly into overly violent bully territory within an instant which can honestly alarm viewers.
Whether he's beating up a bathroom in Punch Drunk Love, throwing dodgeballs extremely hard at first graders in Billy Madison, or rough handling any number of people in his films-- in a sense Adam Sandler has taken the classic Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers or Three Stooges-like ensemble idea and turned it into one individual.
Basically, when we meet a Sandler character in each successive film, we're never exactly sure whom we're going to encounter as he moves from hugs to hits with frightening speed but one of the reasons it worked better in the aforementioned comedy teams is because they were an ensemble and so it was easier to take when you balanced Harpo with Chico and Laurel with Hardy.
Walking the thin line between physical comedy and downright violence is the task undertaken in The Waterboy when we first encounter Sandler in sugar sweet mode as Bobby Boucher, the overly sheltered, smothered mama's boy still living at home at the age of thirty-one.
Apparently mentally challenged and shy-- he rides his tractor from his cliched Louisiana backwoods bayou swamp home shared with his mother Kathy Bates (a long, long way from her usual Oscar worthy self) to the local university where he delivers high quality water as the football team's official waterboy.
Mercilessly ridiculed with school bus level insults aimed squarely at his disability, when it's the victim Bobby who's accused of distracting the team so much by simply existing as a mentally challenged individual the guys bully to no end, he's fired.
Unwilling to just quit the waterboy gig altogether, Bobby visits a local college whose football team's historic losing streak has made them the laughingstock of ESPN. And much to his shock, he's hired-- obviously for free-- to become the "water distribution engineer" by the formerly great and now frazzled Coach Klein (Henry Winkler).
One of the film's only saving graces--Winkler's Coach Klein is the one who tells Bobby at long last that it's okay to stick up for himself. Although when thirty-one years of pent up frustration boils to the surface, Bobby goes berserk, violently knocking the man to the ground in a way that gives Klein the idea that Bobby may be precisely what his team needs to actually win a single game.
Lying to his mama about becoming a football player and college student as well as spending increasing amounts of time with free-spirited recently released jailbird Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk), Sandler's Bobby Boucher soon becomes the star of the team.
An obvious retread of not just Happy Gilmore but other underdog sports tales-- where Waterboy goes terribly wrong is by constantly resorting to awful gross-out memories and over-the-top violence as the most frequent source for jokes. Likewise in having way too much fun with the stereotypical southern setting as Bates cooks up squirrels and gators, we're never sure if we're laughing with Bobby and the Louisiana community or at them as the same cliches of "retarded" and "redneck" that the film allegedly is trying to prove are shallow and wrong.
Thus, in the end, it's squirm-inducing, uncomfortable humor that feels like a ninety minute live action version of a cartoon created by a few teens understandably tired of being picked on in high school yet seeking creative justice rather than violent justice. I only wish the same could be said for the journey of Bobby Boucher.
However, at the end of the day, there's nothing creative about a film that Sandler and Herlihy could've penned in a single afternoon that is nowhere near as intricate or clever as the brief skits from SNL where Sandler would star in "The Denise Show," play the "Opera Man" or grab a guitar and sing odes to Hanukkah, red sweatshirts, or lunch ladies.
A waste of all involved save for Winkler whose playful performance earned the sole laugh I could muster when screening the work for the second time in eleven years on Blu-ray disc as he illustrates the need to rebel by sharing his inked appreciation for Roy Orbison.
So instead for angry Sandler, your best bet is still seeing him square off opposite Jack Nicholson in Anger Management when the premise works precisely because he's in denial of the rage he repeatedly lunges towards in his films and for sweet Sandler, he'll never top The Wedding Singer which is still one of my favorite '90s romantic comedies.
Boasting zero bonus features since most likely none of the individuals involved felt like reliving the experience-- the Blu-ray from Touchstone Pictures is otherwise top-notch as it was distributed by Walt Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment which proves on a weekly basis that they have this format down to an exact science.
Moreover it duplicates the same experience I'd had viewing the film originally in theatres back in '98 with a clear soundtrack that balances the sound of a roaring crowd and the dialogue well across your speakers that syncs up perfectly with razor sharp picture quality. Yet, given the price-tag of Blu-ray discs, my advice would be to hold off on making the upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray for this feature based on the poor content alone (regardless of its superior quality) in the hopes that eventually, a definitive Sandler set will be put together on Blu-ray that will make the price increase worth the switch.
However, one major hurdle that will no doubt get in the way of this becoming a reality-- as Jack Lemmon's son Chris explained in our recent interview while discussing the complexities of sets regarding his dad's body of work-- is the number of studios that would have to work together and film property that's owned by several different corporations. Although, I'm still optimistic that in the future more cross-promotional efforts will be made since studios have begun to realize the home entertainment boom in lieu of poor box office returns.
Likewise, in a society where so much content is available online, perhaps thinking outside the box for business reasons in sharing material to give fans what they'd want and a reason to shell out money would be one extremely profitable and beneficial way to combat the problems facing the entertainment industry in the new millennium.
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