‘That’s My Boy’: Welcome to the punch bowl

June 15, 2012


Even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.

And there aren’t many blinder than Adam Sandler – or his fans.

Sandler does find a few acorns – make that laughs – in “That’s My Boy,” his latest cinematic extrusion. Few of them are provided by him, however. Nor are there nearly enough of them in this flabby, bloated comedy to change your mind if you, like me, are not a particular fan of Sandler’s self-generated films.

This one is directed by Sean Anders and features many of Sandler’s regular actors (Nick Swardson, Peter Dante). But the attraction, of course, is Sandler, one-time “Saturday Night Live” star, and Andy Samberg, a next-gen “SNL”er who is slightly more talented than Sandler and who looks enough like Sandler to be his son. And that’s the joke.

But like all of Sandler’s films (and by that I mean the ones that come from his Happy Madison production company), this one consists of a thin script pumped up with lots of improv and throwaway gags that Sandler and team apparently retrieved from the wastebasket.

Sandler plays Donny Berger, first seen as a Boston middle-schooler (played by Justin Weaver) who becomes famous for having an affair with his sexy teacher (Eva Amurri Martino, daughter of Susan Sarandon) to – what else – Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher.” (Indeed, the entire soundtrack could be a lift from “Rock of Ages.”)

He gets her pregnant and, when she gets 30 years in prison for the affair, he is given custody of the baby. Cut to 28 years later – and Donny, who parlayed his notoriety into a career of short-lived celebrity, is now a tax-owing bum, who hasn’t seen his son (who he named Han Solo Berger) since the kid ran away from home at 18.

Donny needs $40,000 to settle his IRS bill, which, of course, he doesn’t have. But then he sees an engagement notice for his son, now a rich hedge fund manager who has changed his name to Todd (Samberg), who is getting married at the palatial Cape Cod estate of his boss (played, oddly, by Tony Orlando, whose toupee is much funnier than a lot of this movie). So Donny shows up for the wedding, hoping to talk his son into giving him the money to stay out of jail.

Donny is the fish out of water – or perhaps the turd in the punch bowl. He wants to bond with his son, who doesn’t want him there. But Donny’s crude, beer-guzzling persona somehow appeals to Todd’s future family and suddenly Donny is the life of the party.

The plotting is haphazard and random and the writing, as befits a Sandler film, is sloppy and lazy. The gross-out jokes occasionally score, enough to provide intermittent laughs. Just as many of them, however, are simply crude for its own sake. (Oh, snap – Donny’s whacking it to pictures of the bride’s grandmother – and then actually having sex with Granny!)

But Sandler’s arrested-adolescent persona – barely distinguishable from the characters he played in everything from “Happy Gilmore” to “Grown Ups” (except for his hammy Boston accent) – doesn’t generate many of those giggles. Rather, they tend to come from other actors doing inappropriate things. And his casting is always eccentric: everyone from Dan Patrick (as a craven cable host) to James Caan (as a pugnacious Irish priest). Plus, of course, he includes his wife and daughters in small cameos. What a guy.

There are laughs to be had from Sandler’s other bizarre casting choices, though, again, Sandler doesn’t know when to stop. It’s a funny idea, for example, to have Donny be friends with other ’80s-’90s flashes in the pan – Vanilla Ice, for one; Todd Bridges, for another. But the element of surprise wears off quickly and then, well, you’re stuck with Vanilla Ice. Need I continue?

“That’s My Boy” isn’t the worst Sandler comedy ever. But that’s like saying, “This isn’t the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had.”

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