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Thursday, July 6, 2006 08:28 am

King Sandler

As long as he sticks to the formula, box-office gold is guaranteed

Click continues Adam Sandler’s reign as the king of movie comedy, a position he inherited from Jim Carrey. Being the contemporary Jerry Lewis does have its drawbacks. As long as he sticks to the accepted Sandler formula, box-office gold is a virtual guarantee. Watch out if he tries something more substantial, though. The response from his legion of stubborn fans is a deafening silence. There is his choice: $100 million grosses or quality. Mr. Deeds (2002), the remake of the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), starring Gary Cooper, threatened to be a more substantial film, but Sandler fans somehow knew better. Deeds  hasn’t one shred of substance, and it is a complete travesty of the original. Sandler barely tries to re-create the role of an eccentric millionaire whose sanity is questioned because of his excessive philanthropy. Any attempt at social commentary is pounded away by garbage-can beatings. Of course, it was a hit. His 2005 remake of The Longest Yard (1974) is far less offensive because its starting point is much lower. Burt Reynolds, who reappears in the remake, starred in the original as an imprisoned football player who is forced to coach prisoners for a football game against guards. The original is entertaining but a long way from being a classic. Sandler adequately steps into the Reynolds role, and nothing in his version is embarrassing. I suppose that is a plus. Sandler’s two best films bombed. He is convincingly subdued in Spanglish (2004), which features the intriguing premise of an average decent guy who is saddled with a crazed wife (Téa Leoni). Director/writer James L. Brooks writes some of the wittiest scripts in modern cinema, and he gives Sandler the rare opportunity to play a character with a brain. The DVD has deleted scenes that add significant detail to the troubled couple’s relationship. Brooks should not have cut them. When I heard that Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) was making an Adam Sandler movie, I thought that he had lost his mind. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) turned out to be quite a surprise. Anderson explores, rather than avoids, Sandler’s lunkhead persona. He is a businessman who falls for a quirky woman (Emily Watson), but his life is temporarily hindered by a phone-sex service run by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Anderson’s odd surrealistic film plays much better than it sounds, and it may be the best love story of the decade. Sandler fans, take note: He does beat people up.
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