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Weekly Alibi Big Daddy

Oh, Grow Up!

By Devin D. O'Leary

JUNE 28, 1999:  The process has begun. It will be a multi-year, multi-million dollar project -- but, in the end, I know we can rebuild him. Ultimately, everyone will benefit. Call this process "The Maturation of Adam Sandler." ... Hey, I didn't say it would be an easy process. The former "SNL" comedian will be as reluctant to give up his easy-to-please frat boy fan base as they will be to give him up. But at 32, Sandler just can't keep doing the same doofus man-child role over and over again. Don't get me wrong. It's not that anyone wants to see Sandler turn in an Academy Award-winning performance in the latest Jane Austen adaptation. It's just that nobody wants to see a balding, 40-year-old Sandler cranking out Airheads II.

The process began in earnest last fall when Sandler starred in the romantic comedy The Wedding Singer. That surprise hit proved that Sandler could handle "adult" roles. Of course, there will be the inevitable bumps along the way -- like last year's inexplicable brain-dead hit The Waterboy. Still, I have full confidence that Hollywood will bang out a marketable version of Sandler 2.0 within the next couple years.

Big Daddy is the latest step down the road to a fully-grown Adam Sandler. The film starts out in typical Sandler territory. Sandler is Sonny Koufax, an early-30s slacker frittering away his New York law school education by steadfastly avoiding the pressures of adult responsibilities. Unlike his fellow law school buddies who have jumped on the fast track to career and marriage, Sonny works part-time as a toll booth operator, sleeps late, watches cartoons all day and orders all his meals from the take-out joint downstairs. Unlike previous Sandler characters, Sonny's got an excuse for his lack of ambition. Two years previous, he was awarded $200,000 after a taxi cab rolled over his foot. Since then, he's become spoiled by a life of financial comfort.

As our story gets underway, Sonny's girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) is getting fed up with her man's lack of ambition and is threatening to ankle. Fate intervenes in the form of a five-year-old kid who is suddenly dumped on Sonny's doorstep. Displaying shades of Three Men and a Baby, the adorable moppet (played by Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is actually the unknown, illegitimate son of Sonny's roommate (Jon Stewart) who is conveniently out of the country. Figuring fatherhood will impress his gal, Sonny lies to the Department of Human Services and tells them that the child is his. Naturally, the sudden adopting of a five-year-old-kid only succeeds in frightening off his already sketchy galpal.

Dumped and saddled with a little kid, Sonny finds himself with all the responsibilities of a single father. Hijinks, needless to say, ensue.

"Adorable little kid melts the heart of a crusty father figure" has always been a staple of moviemaking, but has really kicked into gear since the 1996 Czech hit Kolya crashed on American shores. Although it frequently threatens to choke on its own saccharine-sweet plot, Big Daddy balances things out with frequent doses of rude Sandler-style humor. Urine, it must be noted, is a frequent plot device.

Early scenes in which Sandler decides to embark on a grand social experiment and raise his "son" with no rules whatsoever are admittedly amusing. Soon the kid is dressing himself in outlandish costumes, eating ketchup three meals a day and renaming himself "Frankenstein." Eventually, when the kid becomes far too unruly to exist in the real world, Sandler realizes he's got to grow up and become a real parent. This is about the time that the government shows up, drags the kid off, and we have to sit through one of those weepy courtroom finales. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Pairing Sandler up with a five-year-old kid -- the only co-star who could seem less mature than Sandler by way of comparison -- was a fairly clever idea. Although Big Daddy hardly results in what we'd call a final product, it does make a few important steps down that road toward our goal of a repackaged, redesigned Adam Sandler. The film frequently struggles to find the proper balance between boob and bodily-fluid jokes and the cloying sentimentality of, say, today's Steve Martin. The film breaks down at the end, surrendering to the cloying sentimentality part -- but by then most fans will be sated on "Hooters" jokes and wee-wee shots.


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