There are a few people in the movie industry that people love to hate. While Michael Bay is probably at the top, Adam Sandler cannot be far behind. But unlike Bay, whose popularity we can understand, Sandler has grown increasingly perplexing. Definitely one of the most well-known cinematic comedic voices of the past 20 years (and one of the few who has worked consistently on his own projects throughout this time), his latest efforts have become downright bizarre. Once you get strip away the “Adam goes on vacation” trappings, the films are lazy, depressing, and soulless in an uncommon way. The Do-Over is no different. (NOTE: SPOILERS – but it’s an Adam Sandler movie, so who cares.)
The Do-Over, Sandler’s second movie made under a lucrative Netflix deal, is technically an action-comedy that stars him and usual cohort David Spade as Max and Charlie, two miserable men who fake their own deaths to escape their miserable lives – or rather Max kidnaps Charlie and forces him to do it. After engaging in rampant hedonism for well over a week (and an unnecessarily high percentage of the movie’s running time), they find themselves the target of assassins looking to kill the dead people whose identities they stole.
Sandler, aided by officially credited writers Kevin Barnett (The Heartbreak Kid, Hall Pass) and Chris Pappas (Unhitched), throws in a token amount of unmemorable shoot outs and a surprisingly high number of uninspired gay jokes that never seem mean enough to be offensive, but barely a scene goes by without at least one happening. Director Seven Brill, who previously directed Sandler in Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, might be fair enough at action sequences, but beyond those, the movie has a disconcerting flatness and lack of energy, as though we’re watching a rough cut, before the addition of a score, ADR, or foley.
As an actor, as usual, Sandler is one of the film’s biggest problems. The rest of the cast is actually fine. High ranking Happy Madison troupe member Spade gives a surprisingly solid performance who does the best he can with the role and probably better than it deserves. Paula Patton has the third most important role as Heather, the wife of the guy whose identity Charlie stole (and who has a secret of her own!). Small roles are populated by underused, better-than-this actors such as Michael Chiklis, Kathryn Hahn, Matt Walsh, Catherine Bell and Natasha Leggero.
Predictably, Sandler is where the movie falls apart. For a movie like this to work (see Midnight Run, The In-Laws), the dynamic of the two main characters is well established: you have the straight man (Charles Grodin, Alan Arkin) and the crazy one (Robert De Niro, Peter Falk). The crazy one needs to have a good mix of scary and charisma, where you don’t exactly trust him, but you also want to follow him as both an audience member and as a character. Max never hits the manic heights of the crazy one, instead playing his character with his recent penchant for a stoicism belying a depression. (That he pretty much always wears jean shorts and a t-shirt isn’t a stylistic choice, it’s a cry for help.) For whatever reason, Sandler seems to be actively avoiding fun.
However, the issue with Sandler’s character is symptomatic of the biggest issue with The Do-Over – it is completely tone deaf. At first glance, the plot could be played for comedy – two guys fake their own death, but it turns out the assassins are after the people they stole their new identities from. Solid enough premise. As the movie progresses, it turns out the assassins want these two people dead because they discovered the cure for (a certain type of) cancer, which would cost Big Chemo trillions of dollars in profit. Yes, the chemotherapy industry is the villain in this. We’re entering strange, turbulent waters here, but nothing that cannot be navigated. The Crazy Conspiracy that goes Straight To The Big Wigs At The Top is fair comedic fodder. Shows like Mr. Show with Bob and David, Children’s Hospital, and South Park have all made great use parodying conspiracy theories; the more outlandish the better.
Except The Do-Over actually plays it straight, with characters expressing a genuine moral disgust towards the actions of the bad guys. Moreover, the two people whose bodies/identities Max stole weren’t random, and they weren’t just involved in finding the cure to cancer, they were involved in finding the cure to a terminal form of cancer that Max actually has. A cancer so bad that he abandoned his wife Becca (Kathryn Hahn) and child so that they didn’t have to deal with his eventual death. A cancer so bad that Charlie even “cries” upon reading about the diagnosis. And all the while more innocent people die on behalf of Big Pharma. Could this have been done darkly comedic? Definitely, and The Nice Guys (my review) pulled off something in a similar vein with gusto. Did The Do-Over? Not in the slightest. (And none of this even touches on how Sandler seemed content to relax and party for a fair amount of time before putting his cancer-curing scheme into action.)
The film becomes burdened with an unnecessary seriousness from which it cannot recover. Becca who first comes across (and is purposely written) as a crazy ex-girlfriend evolves into a genuinely tragic figure dealing with loss. Sandler’s character of a self-destructive lunatic who shoots firsts and asks questions later becomes a man on a legitimate suicide mission who brings his friend on his death wish for no good reason. When we have all this information, Max seems to have had a nervous breakdown closer in spirit to Sandler’s character in Reign Over Me than in any of his Happy Madison productions. So at the end when we get a token joke about the effect gravity has on an older lady’s bosom, it rings false and confusing.
But this unnecessary seriousness that has emerged as a strange motif within the Happy Madison oeuvre. Click ended up being about Sandler’s character’s inability to face the death of his own father and willfully dying himself when he realizes how crappy a father and husband he was. The Ridiculous Six was about Sandler coming to terms with witnessing the brutal murder of his own mother when he was a child and the subsequent abandonment by his father …who ends up betraying his kids for personal greed, much like Heather does to Charlie and Max in this movie. Even in Pixels, the implication is that his character is a deadbeat dad who harasses women and insults people because he is so angry and miserable towards his own life. We’re pretty far from “The Puppy Who Lost Its Way.”
We can accept our comic heroes having horrible traits, as long as they are funny, outlandish, charismatic or simply likeable – see Deadpool for example. But Sandler has grown more dour and depressive as time has gone on, edging closer to being a genuine bully than simply a fool. He has mostly abandoned the man-child persona in favor of some bastardization of the straight man, but he keeps embodying these anti-social traits. Shooting a flare gun at someone during a montage should be played for laughs, not attempted murder. Without the goofiness to cushion his more violent/angry moments, he’s just a dangerous ass. He could make a great villain.
Verdict: 1 out of 5
It seems unfair to judge Happy Madison movies on any conventional scale. Pixels, The Ridiculous Six, and The Do-Over are all 1 out of 5 movies for entirely different reasons. The Do-Over is easily the least impressive of the three, offering not much in the way of action or comedy or anything else. It’s hard to imagine how Sandler will bring us emotionally lower than basing an entire movie around a legitimate cancer subplot, but if anyone can find a way, it’s the man who made fighting Pac-Man feel completely heartless.