Big Daddy (1999)

D: Dennis Dugan
S: Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Cole and Dylan Sprouse

Unbearable comedy featuring useless layabout Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer) conveniently inheriting a five year old boy, his relationship with whom teaches him maturity (which apparently involves allowing the child to wreck havoc and help him meet women). The script by Steve Franks, Tim Herlihy and Sandler himself is little more than a sequence of almost unwatchable exchanges between Sandler and the twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse which expect us to identify with the star's persona and find the child irresistible. Unless you're a fan, the former is unlikely. The latter is laid on so thickly that it's difficult not become nauseated, especially when things move from violent slapstick and scatological humour to a courtroom finale which surrenders all logic to Sandler's ego.

You're probably not meant to take it very seriously, but the film is actually quite irresponsible in lionising a leisured and uncontrolled lifestyle and presenting a five year old child as a combination of a pet and a toy which Sandler's character becomes sentimentally attached to. Narrative contrivance presents the latter as a brilliant legal student who has received an unexpected windfall and thus lives in luxury as a social drop out, amusing himself as he sees fit with nary a care. Though this understandably results in the loss of his girlfriend at the beginning of the film, he eventually triumphs for no good reason other than the star, co-writer and executive producer thinks it should be so. The outrageous climax throws in some errant nonsense about paternal anxiety and the involvement of characters from social services and the judiciary makes it uncomfortably close to actually being about something when in reality it's no more than a star vehicle, and not a very good one at that.

The film is not clearly organised as a comedy. It plays uncomfortably close to drama for the most part, adding to the problem of how to approach it. Just when it should be building a head of steam with a wacky ending, it descends into mawkish trash. Like the somewhat similar but on the whole funnier Liar, Liar, it suffers from the old disease of being unable to realise that it's difficult to make the transition between pathos and hysteria without losing direction. This makes things all the worse when Sandler's final speech rides the borderline between tongue-in-cheek and direct address and the film's coda attempts to convince us that he has grown and matured after all (though he's still not beyond belittling women and the elderly).

Poor Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) attempts to turn in a dignified performance as the love interest amid the Sandleresque oscillation from cloying sweetness to psychotic aggressiveness, but she's in another movie entirely. There's also some PC posturing on homosexuality centred on two of Sandler's friends which seems to have no real point other than some cheap laughs (The Opposite of Sex it's not). Rob Schneider is generally abused and insulted playing an ethnic delivery boy and Leslie Mann endures endless demeaning remarks from Sandler which we are meant to find both endearing and admirable because he's 'just kidding around'. The most amusing turn in the entire picture is from Steve Buscemi as a more recognisable type of social outsider, a homeless man the pair encounter on their travels. The film is not canny enough to suggest this is a foreshadowing of Sandler's character's future though, and he turns up again for the courtroom scene again to provide some farcical moments.

The biggest problem is that the film will appeal to preadolescents as a vision of parenthood and adult responsibility which involves endless entertainment, public disorder and miscellaneous sexual innuendo. There are much better ways for them to spend their time at the movies, but Sandler's massive popularity will doubtlessly bring them in droves. One can only hope that they realise it's all a fantasy, and that even Sandler can't possibly believe there's a worthwhile message in here amid the urine, vomit, and juvenile histrionics. Avoid.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.