A not-so-funny ending

Hollywood diaries

A not-so-funny ending

Adam Sandler’s career has died. The softer-than expected opening of Sandler’s special effects blockbuster Pixels prompted The Hollywood Reporter to announce, “Pixels puts the last nail in Adam Sandler’s creative coffin.” Variety listed “Five Reasons Adam Sandler Is No Longer A Movie Star.” Salon went further. “Adam Sandler is finished,” declared the site.

Few who celebrated his fall were prepared to acknowledge Sandler as anything other than a brain-dead snickering moron who pandered to a community exclusively populated by brain-dead snickering morons. But that’s an ungenerous and inaccurate summation of what by anyone’s standards is an exceptional career.

Between 1998 and 2011 Adam Sandler starred in and produced 14 films that made over $100 million at the US box office. That’s a pretty good run. That’s a run putting him just behind Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks, neck and neck with Eddie Murphy, and ahead of Will Smith. He’s proven himself unafraid to deviate from a successful formula, most notably in Punch Drunk Love and Funny People.

Setting himself apart from his contemporaries, Sandler achieved this mixture of longevity and profitability without consenting to a single press interview in over 20 years. But it wasn’t his inaccessibility that caused the media to dance so merrily on Sandler’s grave last week. Before they hated him, they were no different from the rest of America in succumbing to his particular brand of charm.

The instant smash success of Mike Myers’ Wayne’s World sketch brought a younger audience to Saturday Night Live which meant that several long-serving cast members received their marching orders, and less seasoned, fresher-faced supporting players, Chris Farley, Norm McDonald, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler found themselves called up to active sketch show duty. Sandler wasn’t funnier or smarter than those comics, but there are a few reasons why he took up permanent residence in the hearts and minds of the 13 year-olds who had just started staying up late to catch the show.

Billy Madison wrote the blueprint for Sandler’s subsequent cinematic comedy career: it allowed him to act like a baby, it gave him the opportunity to explode in volcanic rage, and it created a dubious scenario where a woman hugely out of his league could find his stupidity endearing.

The beloved follow-up, 1996’s golf comedy Happy Gilmore, the first of eight films he would make with director Dennis Dugan, was more absurd and violent.

As adored as these movies were among a particular demographic — horny, stoned, teenage boys — Sandler was perceived as little more than a carnival act until 1998’s The Wedding Singer. Drew Barrymore and Sandler had chemistry. She was every bit the oddball he was. They seemed like they belonged together. The Wedding Singer was Adam Sandler’s first film to crack the $100 million barrier. It made Hollywood look at him with new, appreciative eyes. Here was someone who could — and would — continue to play a moron, but he could also be a romantic lead and a family man. When avowed fan Paul Thomas Anderson approached him to star in Punch Drunk Love, he proved capable of handling a non-comedic role.

Every audience member has his or her own recollection of the exact movie which made them question their unwavering support for Sandler. It took a while for me. It wasn’t his 2005 remake of the Burt Reynolds’ prison yard classic The Longest Yard where he tried, and absolutely did not succeed in, emulating Reynolds’ laconic cool. It wasn’t Click, in which he gets a universal remote that can freeze, skip or fast-forward through all the boring bits in life. It wasn’t even I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, in which he married Kevin James and learnt lessons about equality and acceptance.

No, I hung in until Grown Ups in 2010. It seemed like such a promising idea. A reunion of Sandler and his Nineties SNL castmates, Rock, Spade, Schneider, McDonald, plus comedy luminaries like Colin Quinn and Maya Rudolph.

But Grown Ups was Sandler, a rich successful Hollywood producer lording over his less-successful friends. In the movie, he’s married to Salma Hayek, he’s a great dad, he’s in prime athletic condition, he’s better in every way than his buddies whose flailing business he bails out. Grown Ups — his most successful international release is the final indication that Sandler was more at home playing alpha males than underdogs.

As much as his ego has expanded over the decades, the energy he brought to his earlier films, has entirely evaporated. In duds like the Jennifer Aniston co-starrer Just Go With it and his third go-round with Drew Barrymore, Blended, his mumbling, heavy-lidded lethargy sucks the life out of every scene. Instead of reacting to the weary, lazy bitter billionaire hack comic he played in Judd Apatow’s 2009 Funny People as a warning sign of his impending fate, he seemed to see the movie as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The audiences who filled cinema seats for the inexplicable Jack & Jill and Grown Ups 2 displayed more loyalty than Sandler’s own studio.

I don’t think Sandler’s finished. I believe taking a few years off and making a Michael Keaton-style comeback is a possibility he might do well to consider. Maybe he should even break his 20-year silence and talk to the press. I’m up for it if he is …

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