One of the things I’m proud of as a film critic is that I’m able to enjoy all kinds of movies. I don’t mean that I’m too easily please; it’s just that I can appreciate the virtues of certain big blockbusters like I do for the classy arthouse pics. Hence, I don’t take part in the near-universal vendetta of reviewers against SNL alumn Adam Sandler. Yeah, his movies can be shallow, unambitious, predictable, offensive or even retarded. But doggone it, they’re as entertaining as it gets, and the great Sandoo is one of the most likable performers in Hollywood. Sandler and his old college pals (who often serve as writers and directors on his pictures) are not master filmmakers of Scorsese proportions, but movies like “Billy Madison”, “Happy Gilmore”, “The Wedding Singer”, “The Waterboy” and now “Big Daddy” are colorful, hilarious and sincere in their affection for slackers.
Here, the Sandman plays one helluvah slacker named Sonny Koufax, who finished law school some ten years ago but still lives like a frat boy. He works one day a week as a toolbooth clerk and spends the rest of his time drinking, watching TV and listening to his all-time favorite band, Styx. It’s an enjoyably laid back lifestyle, but it ain’t what his girlfriend thinks. Pointing out how immature he is, she dumps him. That’s when, through unlikely movie circumstances, five year old Julian (played by the cute and funny twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is delivered at his doorstep, prompting Koufax to adopt him to show his girl he can get a life. Yet it doesn’t work at all, since she has already replaced him with a 60 year old man (you gotta see Sandler’s reaction!). Sonny will have to take care of the kid by himself and, who knows, he might even get to like the little guy…
The biggest and most surprising quality of Big Daddy is how sweet it is. Some people were actually crying in the audience! It reminded me of the father-son relationship in Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, no kidding! Of course, this being a Sandler flick, we also get lots of raunchy humor, as he teaches his kid to trip rollerbladers, pee on walls and other important stuff. But Sandler also shows that he does have acting chops, and he convincingly shows how his character starts to care about the kid. Big Daddy was written by Sandler and two buddies and directed by Dennis Dugan, who also helmed “Happy Gilmore”. The movie is rather conventionally crafted, with big threads and particularly obvious product placement (Hooters, McDonald’s, various junk food…), but that doesn’t really matter in a flick like this.
Dugan keeps the movie quick and funny, and surrounds Sandler with an amazing supporting cast, most notably the underrated Rob Schneider as an illegal imigrant delivery boy and scene-stealer Steve Buscemi who once again gets some of the film’s biggest laughs (like in “Billy Madison” and “The Wedding Singer”) as a homeless lunatic. There’s also “Chasing Amy’s Joey Lauren Adams as Sandler’s lovable new flame, but there isn’t any doubt that the film’s real love story is between Adam and his tiny playmate. If most critics don’t appreciate that, it’s because they’re, as Sandler puts it in the film, “cynical assholes”. Well, don’t expect “La Dolce Vita” and you’ll love Big Daddy.