June 14, 2012 at 2:01 PM ET
By now a well-recognized brand unto themselves, Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company represent a firmly entrenched comedy formula that can claim a global fan base prepared to follow wherever the laughs may lead. With enough wedding-related shenanigans to pull in the date crowd, the guffaw-to-gag ratio remains relatively respectable, though there’s nothing here that hasn’t been attempted many times over. Resistance is futile, however, and will hardly prevent the middling "That’s My Boy" from opening to brisk business, most likely in the midrange of recent Sandler releases.
Donny Berger (Sandler) is a burned-out former reality TV star with no job and practically no family, at least none who stand by him. Now well into his 40s, he’s infamous for having slept with his eighth-grade teacher (currently serving a 30-year sentence in the Massachusetts penal system), fathering a son with her while still a teen and leveraging his notoriety to launch a lucrative TV show and series of celebrity endorsements. But he’s pissed it all away and dodged paying taxes in the process -- now he has a $43,000 IRS bill that will land him in jail if he can’t quickly raise the cash to pay it off.
He also has neglected his son Todd (Andy Samberg), who moved away as soon as he turned 18 and hasn’t spoken with his epically incompetent dad ever since. Despite his traumatic childhood and a bucketful of neuroses, Todd -- whose birth name is Han Solo Berger -- is now a wealthy and successful hedge fund manager who’s about to marry the woman of his dreams. The last thing he expects is for his estranged father to show up, which Donny does in classic wedding-crasher style after devising an unsavory scheme to settle his tax debt.
Mortified and about to see the lie he’s told everyone about his deceased parents exposed, Todd introduces Dad to fiancée Jamie (Leighton Meester) and her family as his best friend. Improbably, Donny utterly charms the other wedding guests and is soon getting along with everyone except his son, even after people recognize him as the notorious TV personality with an insatiable addiction to cheap beer.
Donny’s determined to see his son through an increasingly bumpy wedding weekend, however, as Todd is confronted by the hostility of Jamie’s Marine brother Chad (Milo Ventimiglia), a pugnacious priest (James Caan) and a series of mishaps leading up to some serious father-son bonding over Todd’s calamitous bachelor-party night out. Todd’s quandary over forgiving Donny’s past and current transgressions begins to pale in comparison to his mounting marriage woes, leaving the groom with the unenviable choice between a parent he’s tried to avoid and a bride he soon might want to escape.
This being an Adam Sandler comedy, crude humor predominates at the expense of inherently unique situations or characters, with a by-now familiar strain of sentimentality emerging in later reels. Director Sean Anders and screenwriter David Caspe follow the game plan adequately enough, but the movie is overburdened with incidents that prove only mildly amusing. Anders’ background as an R-rated comedy writer could have served him better with shepherding the disparate cast and animating the pacing, but instead the outcome is a bloated runtime that nearly tips two hours.
In full-on man-child mode, Sandler plays a stereotypical Northeastern white-trash character recognizable from his exaggerated regional accent, nonstop substance abuse, profanity-dominated speech and fixation on sex. It’s nothing new for Sandler, who inhabits Donny’s low-life personality like an alter ego, alternately mugging and emoting with predictable charm.
Every buddy movie needs a straight man, but Samberg is rather more rigid than the role requires, rarely modulating his performance enough to generate genuine hilarity. Samberg and Sandler’s shared "Saturday Night Live" DNA barely registers, and their interactions lack much of the zaniness of the TV series. Meester remains relegated to a largely functional role that’s essential but hardly inspired. Deft casting that includes supporting actors Tony Orlando as Todd’s slimy boss, Vanilla Ice as Donny’s best bud and a sexy Susan Sarandon in a brief cameo as Donny’s incarcerated teacher helps to enliven the overall mood.
Serviceable lensing by DP Brandon Trost is marred by some inexpertly executed special effects, but a soundtrack dominated by hairband rockers including Van Halen, Kiss, Foreigner and Def Leppard provides plenty of tuneful distraction throughout.
"That’s My Boy" delivers the outrageous situations, nonstop raunchiness and juvenile humor that Sandler fans typically seek -- for those who are actually still in the market for this particular brand of comedy.
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