Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Big Daddy

By Marc Savlov

JUNE 28, 1999: 

D: Dennis Dugan; with Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart, Steve Buscemi, Josh Mostel, Rob Schneider, Cole Sprouse, Dylan Sprouse, Kristy Swanson. (PG-13, 95 min.)

A kinder, gentler Adam Sandler targets a whole new demographic, the ladies, in this lighthearted -- but still marginally obnoxious -- tale of unplanned parenthood and wayward parental mores. I've followed Sandler's bizarre career trajectory from his Studboy character on MTV's Remote Control back in '89 to his five years with Saturday Night Live and from there to his Hollywood vehicles, wondering if his gimpy, collegiate humor would ever fully translate to a wider audience. With last year's The Wedding Singer, which indeed translated to a mammoth audience (and a reported $20 million-plus paycheck for the actor), it's clear that his appeal is less frat-house-centric than previously imagined. To my sensibilities, this is along the lines of kippered herring suddenly becoming a North American dinner staple, but hey, stranger things have happened. Sandler plays Sonny Koufax, a New York law school grad who, thanks to a sizable insurance claim, spends his time loafing about his East Side loft when not working a sporadic gig as a tollbooth attendant. Like nearly all Sandler's characters to date, Sonny is a chronic underachiever with a kid-sized chip on his shoulder, content to drift through life shooting hoops, ogling women, and hanging out with his sad-sack pals day after day after day. For Sonny, though, it all changes when two things occur almost simultaneously to reverse his uber-slacker attitude. The first is when his go-getter girlfriend Vanessa (Swanson) gives him the boot for a (much) older man. The second is when a five-year-old little boy by the name of Julian (twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse), who is possibly the illegitimate son of his best friend Kevin (Stewart), is deposited on his doorstep with a note asking that he be cared for in lieu of group-home placement. From here on out, there is barely an unpredictable shot in the film, with Sandler initially trying to cope with the kid's bed-wetting, feeding schedule, and general care, and then falling hopelessly in love with the little scamp. This being a Sandler film, Sonny and Julian bond over such creaky gags as outdoor urination, manhandling Central Park rollerbladers, and scamming on the babes. Sandler excels as big-kid schtick, but you really wish there was more going on here. When Sonny falls for a paralegal (Adams), who in turn falls for Julian, the film takes a sidetrack into relationship humor that seems to go nowhere fast. Likewise, a strained subplot involving Sonny's own tortured relationship with his lawyer father. Buscemi once again turns up in a cameo (though one not nearly as subversive as Billy Madison's rifle-wielding headcase), as does Sandler's old SNL crony Shneider. Dugan keeps his direction workmanlike and uninspired, and the laugh-out-loud gags are few and far between, though several women I've spoken to agree that, for them, this is their favorite Sandler thus far. For Sandler's core audience of developmentally arrested males, it may all be a little too cute.

2.0 stars

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