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The Films of Dennis Dugan

Problem Child

Brain Donors

The Shaggy Dog

Happy Gilmore

Beverly Hills Ninja

Big Daddy (October 3/01)

Surprisingly enough, Big Daddy's few tender moments don't seem terribly artificial or forced, mostly due to the low-key and subtle (!) performance by Adam Sandler. With Sandler's first couple of movies (Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, which is still his best), trying to apply a word like "subtle" to Sandler's acting technique would have been like calling an irate gorilla "harmless." That's not to say Sandler has abandoned the puerile and broad comedy that made him famous. Far from it. He's just toned it down a notch. Big Daddy casts Sandler as a man who's content sitting around his apartment eating cereal and watching sports. But his current girlfriend (played by Kristy Swanson) wants something more out of life - so when she's away for the weekend, he adopts a kid. Through fairly convoluted circumstances, he's convinced a social worker that he's the kid's natural father and (of course) the social worker is delighted that the child will be with his birth parent. But it turns out that Sandler's girlfriend has been seeing someone on the side, and has no interest in starting a family with him. Much hilarity ensues as Sandler comes to the realization that he's stuck with this kid. Big Daddy contains its share of big laughs (with the majority of those courtesy of the various guest stars - most notably Steve Buscemi as a semi-insane homeless guy), and also a good amount of tender moments. Look, this isn't exactly a Meryl Streep-esque examination of the relationship between a parent and child, but for Sandler, it's incredibly mature. And a lot of moments that likely got scoffed at by Sandler's more youthful fans actually play quite well. Specifically, the scene in which he finds out that he has to give up the kid - Sandler actually gets choked up and seems convincing. But really, this is still a silly Adam Sandler comedy and it's got a lot of juvenile jokes going for it. Of note is Sandler's method for cheering up the kid (he throws himself in front of a moving car) and the duo's various exploits in causing bodily harm to strangers (Sandler tosses a stick in the path of a speeding rollerblader). If you've dismissed Adam Sandler as a one-trick pony, give Big Daddy a shot. It may not win you over, but you just might wind up with a new found respect for Sandler.

out of

Saving Silverman

National Security (November 28/08)

Martin Lawrence's painful penchant for overacting once again fells what could've been an entertaining comedic actioner, with the actor's obnoxious performance proving a test to the viewer's patience virtually from the word go. And as interminable his work was in Blue Streak, Lawrence actually fares even worse here - as his character's motor-mouth tendencies are exacerbated by an ugly emphasis on racist jokes and asides. The story follows a pair of security guards (Lawrence's Earl Montgomery and Steve Zahn's Hank Rafferty) as they find themselves embroiled in a smuggling operation with far-reaching implications, though the bulk of the proceedings revolves around the mismatched pair's efforts at getting past their indelible hatred for one another. There's little doubt that National Security's opening half hour is as disastrous and interminable as one might've suspected, as director Dennis Dugan eschews overt instances of plot in favor of Lawrence's fast-talking antics - which effectively prevents one from connecting to the material in any substantial way. It's only as screenwriters Jay Scherick and David Ronn begin to wholeheartedly embrace the cliches of the buddy-cop genre that the film slowly-but-surely morphs into a mindlessly enjoyable actioner, with the inclusion of several familiar staples - ie characters run away from an explosion, a car bursts through a wall in slow motion, etc - successfully compensating for Lawrence's less-than-stellar work (to a certain degree, anyway). The expectedly violent climax - which even boasts a fairly effective bad-guy death - ensures that National Security ends on a relatively high note, and it's ultimately clear that the movie would've been far better off with virtually any other actor in the Lawrence role.

out of

Karroll's Christmas

The Benchwarmers (November 22/06)

Though sporadically entertaining and even a little funny, The Benchwarmers is ultimately nothing more than a silly, egregiously sentimental comedy from Adam Sandler's Happy Madison production company. The thin storyline follows a trio of losers - Rob Schneider's Gus, David Spade's Richie, and Jon Heder's Clark - as they take on various little league teams in an effort to compensate for their less-than-athletic adolescent years. Directed by Happy Gilmore helmer Dennis Dugan and written by Allen Covert and Nick Swardson (both of whom had a creative hand in the execrable Grandma's Boy), The Benchwarmers is as disposable and puerile as one might've expected - though, in all fairness, there are a few chuckle-worthy moments spread throughout the film's mercifully brief running time. The movie certainly gets a lot of mileage out of the quirky supporting cast - comprised of folks like Jon Lovitz, Tim Meadows, and Craig Kilborn - and there's little doubt that it's their mere presence that ensures the whole thing never quite becomes an out-and-out disaster. Then again, all the charisma in the world can't disguise the inherently predictable nature of the film's third act - which effectively leaves the proceedings with a heavy-handed and distinctly sour aftertaste.

out of

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (November 30/07)

As complex as a garden-variety sitcom, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry suffers from precisely the same sort of problems that have been plaguing most of Adam Sandler's recent comedies - with the overlong running time and emphasis on sentiment just two of the film's more egregious faults. This inclusion of a few genuinely funny moments - as well as the presence of several familiar faces within the supporting cast - simply isn't enough to disguise the stale and inherently predictable nature of the movie's premise, which follows Sandler's Chuck as he reluctantly agrees to "marry" Kevin James' Larry in an effort to ensure that Larry's kids will receive benefits if he dies. Director Dennis Dugan - working from Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor's screenplay - has infused I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry with a predictable, downright familiar sensibility that ensures there are few surprises to be had over the course of the movie's 110 minutes, with the prejudice that Chuck and Larry encounter among colleagues and friends certainly the most overt example of this. The inclusion of several eye-rollingly hackneyed elements - ie a trying-on-clothes montage set to "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" - doesn't do the film any favors, nor does the astonishingly offensive casting of Rob Schneider as an antiquated Asian caricature (complete with buck teeth and thick glasses!) Sandler and James' affable work is ultimately negated by the movie's many deficiencies, with the drawn-out finale (in which Chuck denounces homophobia as "bad") only cementing I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry's status as an effort that's been artlessly geared towards the lowest common denominator.

out of

You Don't Mess With The Zohan (October 3/08)

An undeniable improvement over I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, You Don't Mess With The Zohan nevertheless comes off as the latest in a long line of underwhelming Adam Sandler comedies - with the film's absurdly padded-out running time proving instrumental in its transformation from amiable time-killer to oppressive disaster. The movie casts Sandler as Zohan Dvir, a legendary Israeli Special Forces soldier who fakes his own death in order to pursue a career as a New York-based hairstylist. There's little doubt that Sandler deserves some credit for stepping slightly outside of his comfort zone, as You Don't Mess With The Zohan has been infused with an over-the-top, Stephen Chowesque sensibility that's certainly a far cry from the comparatively sedate nature of his previous efforts. It's subsequently worth noting that the film initially sustains one's interest with its broadly-played action scenes and unapologetically silly interludes, with Sandler's expectedly charming work holding the proceedings together even through its less-than-successful comedic segues. Yet there inevitably reaches a point at which the relentlessly off-the-wall atmosphere starts to wear the viewer down, as director Dennis Dugan places an increasing emphasis on sequences that are either too long or flat-out needless. Saddled with an admittedly one-note premise, You Don't Mess With The Zohan is clearly the sort of effort that should've topped out at 80 minutes - which does ensure that the almost two-hour running time eventually becomes overwhelming and overbearing. And while screenwriters Robert Smigel, Judd Apatow, and Sandler do a surprisingly nice job of offering up an even-handed portrayal of the film's Israeli and Arab characters, You Don't Mess With The Zohan ultimately belongs within the ever-growing cadre of Adam Sandler misfires.

out of

Grown Ups (July 2/10)

Though it boasts as impressive a comedic cast as one can easily recall, Grown Ups, for the most part, comes off as a pervasively inconsequential piece of work that seems to exist solely because Adam Sandler wanted to spend some time with his friends. The movie follows Sandler's Lenny Feder as he and his adolescent buddies (Kevin James' Eric, Chris Rock's Kurt, David Spade's Marcus, and Rob Schneider's Rob) reunite at a cabin in the woods following the death of their beloved coach (Blake Clark's Buzzer), with the bulk of the narrative subsequently devoted to the central characters' fun-loving shenanigans in the days leading up to July 4th (ie they hit a waterpark, they play basketball, etc, etc). Grown Ups' unabashedly freewheeling atmosphere is initially not quite as problematic as one might've feared, as the charisma of the various performers goes a long way towards establishing an ambiance of lightheartedness that's impossible to resist (for a little while, anyway). And although the affable vibe does compensate for the curious lack of laughs, there inevitably reaches a point at which the viewer begins to crave something (anything) of substance in terms of plot (ie the experience of watching the film is increasingly akin to the experience of watching somebody else's home videos). The aggressively uneventful bent of Sandler and Fred Wolf's screenplay ensures that the movie becomes a progressively interminable experience as it unfolds, with the frustratingly overlong running time - this thing should've topped out at 75 minutes, max - cementing Grown Up's place as an especially egregious example of a needless vanity project.

out of

Just Go With It (February 10/11)

The latest in a long line of underwhelming Adam Sandler comedies, Just Go With It casts the actor as Danny - a swinging plastic surgeon who's spent most of his adult life tricking women into bed by pretending to be trapped in a loveless marriage. But after his latest conquest (Brooklyn Decker's Palmer) demands to meet his wife, Danny is forced to concoct an increasingly elaborate lie involving his divorced assistant (Jennifer Aniston's Katherine) and her two small kids (Bailee Madison's Maggie and Griffin Gluck's Michael). Director Dennis Dugan has infused Just Go With It with a surprisingly languid sensibility that becomes more and more problematic as time progresses, as the film, weighed down by sequences of an overlong and flat-out needless variety, inevitably transforms from an amusing timewaster to an interminable disaster - with the tedious atmosphere exacerbated by an astonishing lack of laughs. Dugan, working from a script by Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling, emphasizes comedic asides and set pieces of a shockingly misguided variety - ie Danny's obnoxiously off-kilter friend, Eddie (Nick Swardson), delivers a long, unfunny speech about sheep - and there's little doubt that the affable cast is, as a result, wasted to an exceedingly frustrating degree. (It's also worth noting that Sandler himself contributes heavily to the film's pervasively stagnant atmosphere, as the actor eschews delivering an actual performance in favor of coasting on his charisma.) By the time the endlessly sentimental and melodramatic third act inevitably rolls around, Just Go With It has certainly confirmed its place as the nadir of Sandler's progressively underwhelming filmography - which is a shame, really, given that the former SNL star was once a seriously promising figure within the modern comedy scene.

out of

Jack and Jill (March 1/12)

Though slightly better than Just Go With It (if only because it's shorter), Jack and Jill nevertheless represents yet another complete and total misfire from the once-reliable Adam Sandler - with the film's abject failure especially disappointing given the strength of its admittedly promising setup. The movie casts Sandler as Jack Sadelstein, a successful advertising executive who must cope with the arrival of his loud-mouthed, socially-inept twin sister (Sandler's Jill) over the Thanksgiving holiday - with Jack's ongoing efforts at landing Al Pacino for a pivotal ad campaign first threatened and eventually assisted by his boorish sibling. There's little doubt that Jack and Jill fares surprisingly well in its opening 15 minutes or so, as filmmaker Dennis Dugan kicks the proceedings off with an amusing credits sequence and subsequently does a nice job of establishing the various characters - with the affable vibe heightened by a series of amusing cameos from folks like Regis Philbin and Dana Carvey. The relatively watchable vibe persists right up until Sandler's Jill enters the picture, after which point it becomes harder and harder to work up any real interest in any of this - with the actor's grating and pervasively obnoxious performance effectively bringing the proceedings to a dead stop (ie Jill is simply a reprehensible human being whose mere presence provokes irritation and rage in the viewer). It's clear, also, that the movie's progressively interminable atmosphere is exacerbated by a continuing emphasis on misguided, hopelessly unfunny set pieces and interludes, although there's certainly nothing more intolerable than the false, undeserved sentimentality that begins to crop up just past the one-hour mark (ie we're supposed to actually care about Jill now?) The end result is a seriously tedious piece of work that will, one can only hope, stand as a wakeup call for Sandler, as the actor must be growing tired of appearing in one bottom-of-the-barrel disaster after another.

out of

Grown Ups 2 (August 10/13)

As disposable and forgettable as its 2010 predecessor, Grown Ups 2 follows Adam Sandler's Lenny Feder and his three best buddies (Kevin James' Eric, Chris Rock's Kurt, and David Spade's Marcus) as they engage in a wide variety of fun-loving shenanigans over the course of one very long day. It's almost remarkable just how unfunny Grown Ups 2 is on a scene-to-scene basis, with the film establishing its hopelessly misguided sense of humor right from the get-go. (The movie opens with a shockingly stupid sequence in which a fake-looking moose breaks into Lenny's home and proceeds to run roughshod over the premises, right after urinating on both Lenny AND his teenage son.) It's worth noting, however, that the film, for the most part, never quite becomes the unwatchable mess that one might've anticipated, with the ample charisma of the various stars going a long way towards perpetuating the far-from-interminable atmosphere. There's little doubt, as well, that Grown Ups 2 fares best in its freewheeling, let's-all-have-fun stretches, as the lazy and second-rate plotting ensures that the movie palpably falters whenever it attempts to flesh out the characters (ie the lack of subtlety within Sandler, Fred Wolf, and Tim Herlihy's screenplay is nothing short of astonishing). The inclusion of a few admittedly amusing sequences - eg James' Eric encounters an all-male charity carwash crew comprised of past and present SNL regulars like Andy Samberg, Will Forte, and Taran Killam - buoys the viewer's waning interest on a regular basis, although it's hard to deny that the film fizzles out rather substantially once it arrives at its fairly endless third act (which transpires entirely at a wild party). It's ultimately impossible to label Grown Ups 2 as anything more than a cynical cash-grab by Sandler and company, and it goes without saying that one's opinion of the original is a surefire determination of one's feelings towards this needless sequel.

out of

About the DVD: Jack and Jill arrives on DVD armed with a crisp transfer and a smattering of bonus features.
© David Nusair