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Adam Sandler meets his Mini-Me in "Big Daddy"

By Ray Pride

JUNE 28, 1999:  It's easy to laugh at "Big Daddy" but I don't think I'm comfortable yet with the concept of heartwarming vulgarity.

Adam Sandler's latest is yet another case of filmmakers not having it both ways, but every which way. As with the lovingly structured, oddly tender "American Pie," a laugh riot opening in July, one blinks in dazed wonder at the raft of stories hitting screens these days that combine sentiment and gross-outs without the actors on-screen suddenly exploding into stigmata and pools of bile.

The preview audience I saw Sandler's hyperaccelerated lunge toward responsibility with were volubly grateful for the demographically diverse range of jokes. (There's even a major gay-embracing subplot.) The maturation of his 32-year-old Sonnie Koufax, a New York law school grad turned layabout, is unbelievable but pushed along at such a brazen gait that an audience guffaws gratefully as the story hiccups with impudent calibration from gag to gag. Dennis Dugan's direction of the script by Steve Franks, Tim Herlihy and Sandler cannonballs through plot and complication indelicacies. Then there's a raft of awful pop songs in superstereophonic clarity (including a few homages to Rush) to keep your mind off the messiness.

And a key element remains for his core woman-distrusting young male audience - unceasing, compulsive, hypocritical aggression toward his roommate's fiancée, a former Hooters waitress. The movie may end in a Hooters restaurant and breasts are not beyond the camera's delectation, but Sandler's relentless contempt toward the character should resonate nicely with his girl-shy regulars. Her sister, played by Joey Lauren Adams, is a lawyer for the Sierra Club - another example of pandering blatantly for the love of the female part of the moviegoing audience that went to "The Wedding Singer," but recoiled from "The Waterboy."

Much of the story finds the camera mooshing through a vast playroom of a mythically-scaled loft, a grownup's Pee Wee's Playhouse that a kid fits into perfectly. The kid in question is Julian, an endlessly cute, big-eyed 5-year-old who winds up on Sonnie's Soho stoop. This would have been a better Anakin Skywalker - and to double the aww quotient, girls - he's twins! Cole and Dylan Sprouse, who are actually easy to tell apart, are melded into Sandler's own Mini-Me, as they burble vulgarities and profanity in a broad range of oh-too-cute "Phantom Menace-style pidgins and drawls. Opera Man? How about Pee Boy? (A name Sonnie gives Julian after about the fourth public urination bit.)

Sandler's wanna-be-loved everyschmo even reigns in the vocal gimmicks, often at the risk of revealing his limited acting range. He's the cocker spaniel of all cocker spaniels, all but wagging his tail to get all cute with the girlies, eyes atwinkle like the boor next door. Even Adams, one of several utterly blonde love interests, grins more and affects less of a groaned voice. Yet while Sandler and his collaborators embrace as broad a swath of the moviegoing audience as is willing to accept the bearhug, Sonny remains three-quarters-a-bubble off plumb. Sonny is a prototypical New York aggresso, filled, like most of Sandler's characters, with incredible fury. He's a half-cappuccino away from sociopathic rage. The laughs come when Sonnie loses his cool, yelling, lying, pleading, smashing things in a grocery store, but it hardly demonstrates his fitness as a father, if one were to take the story seriously for more than the time it takes to contemplate the one-sheet of the dynamic duo pissing on the doors of a French restaurant.

The movie ends with a trial that's an ongoing mockery, travesty and sham. An Adam Sandler weepie? You saw it here first. Tears, a courtroom speech about loving your dear old dad, then a heartfelt montage to Bruce Springsteen's early song, "Growing up." As they say in the old country, Oy!

Still, the manic let's-put-on-a-show grabbing for laughs delivers in a way that I'm not ashamed to admit laughing at. A little more craft, a little less crap next time, please, but in the meantime, I laughed longer and harder at much of "Big Daddy" than anything in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." (I was particularly fond of Sonnie throwing himself in the path of a car to amuse the little package of box office bliss.) There are also fun turns in smaller parts by Steve Buscemi, Rob Schneider and Josh Mostel.

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