The Films of Peter Segal
Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult
Tommy Boy (August 19/05)
Featuring a pair of exceedingly effective performances from Chris Farley and David Spade, Tommy Boy is an affable yet thoroughly middle-of-the-road comedy that's elevated by the genuine chemistry between the two stars. Farley plays Tommy, a gregarious goofball who - after the death of his father (Brian Dennehy) - must team up with the snide Richard (Spade) in order to save the family business. It's because Spade and Farley are so good together that we're willing to overlook Bonnie and Terry Turner's lackluster screenplay, which emphasizes a cliched storyline and unusually melodramatic interludes over character development and wacky subplots (although, to be fair, there are more instances of the latter as the film progresses). Director Peter Segal does a nice job of reigning in Farley's overbearing personality, allowing the actor to turn Tommy into a believable figure - without sacrificing his penchant for physical comedy (check out Black Sheep, Spade and Farley's second collaboration, for an example of what can happen when Farley's left to his own devices).
My Fellow Americans
Nutty Professor II: The Klumps
Anger Management (April 7/03)
That Adam Sandler's first movie since Punch Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant love story, is the sort of comedy we've come to expect from him says a lot about how he feels about his fans. Unlike Jim Carrey, who now makes comedies every few years, Sandler seems to accept his limitations as an actor (not that he wasn't excellent in Punch Drunk Love, but that role was tailor-written for him) and understands that most viewers want to see him in a silly comedy. And while Anger Management is a bit more serious than films like Happy Gilmore or even Big Daddy, the movie still has its share of comedic bits. Anger Management casts Sandler as Dave Buznik, a sweet but meek executive secretary who's deathly afraid of confrontations. After a bizarre misunderstanding aboard an airplane, Dave is sentenced to 30 days of anger management therapy under the watchful eye of Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson). Though Anger Management is tremendously entertaining - if about 10-15 minutes too long - the film is not as laugh-out-loud funny as some of Sandler's earlier works (even the much maligned Mr. Deeds had more moments of pure hilarity). The biggest difference between this and other Sandler comedies is the absence of screenwriter Tim Herlihy. Anger Management has instead been penned by newcomer David Dorfman, and while the film is peppered with sporadic instances of trademark Sandler humor (including the presence of perennial Sandler co-star, Allen Covert), the underlying inexplicable and oddball jokes have essentially been excised. Given that this is Sandler's first film since Punch Drunk Love, it seems pretty clear that the actor is attempting to utilize some of the skills he picked up in that movie. Dave is probably the most fully-fleshed out character he's played in a comedy, but that doesn't necessarily equal big laughs. The problem is - unlike Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison - Dave Buznik isn't overconfident in everything he does. The majority of the comedy from Sandler's earlier movies came through fish-out-of-water situations, where his boorish behavior clashed with snooty upperclass types. But that's just not the case here. The film doesn't even have the now-patented cheesy bad guy we've come to expect from Sandler's comedies. There's no Shooter McGavin here (Sandler's arch-rival in Happy Gilmore); Nicholson's Buddy Rydell is more of an annoyance to Dave than anything else. The enthusiasm of the eclectic cast certainly contributes heavily to the genial atmosphere. Sandler and Nicholson have great chemistry together, and Nicholson (in particular) goes for the gusto with his performance. Among the supporting cast, Turturro is a lot of fun in a minor role while John C. Reilly pops up as Dave's childhood nemesis - who's now a monk. Having said that, Anger Management is one of the most purely enjoyable movies to come down the pike in a good long while. Though the resolution of the film goes on longer than it needs to and is incredibly sappy (even by Sandler standards), the movie is sure to delight fans turned off by Little Nicky.
50 First Dates (February 10/04)
50 First Dates continues Adam Sandler's transition from all-around wacky guy to honest-to-goodness leading man, following flicks like Anger Management and Punch Drunk Love. Though the film isn't in the same league as the latter (not much is, really), 50 First Dates is notable in that it combines the off-the-wall humor of films like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison with surprisingly dramatic moments. Even more surprising, it works; the characters eventually become altogether appealing, making the more sentimental moments genuinely touching. Sandler stars as Henry Roth, a Hawaiian marine biologist with a serious aversion to commitment. That all changes when he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), a bubbly teacher who enjoys building houses out of waffles. Despite his best efforts, Henry finds himself falling for Lucy - but is shocked to learn that as a result of a car crash, Lucy's memory of the day's events is erased every time she goes to sleep. Comedy ensues as Henry's forced to introduce himself to Lucy on a daily basis, and convince her to fall in love with him. If there's any Adam Sandler film that just might win over non-fans, this is the one. Though Sandler gives exactly the sort of performance we've come to expect from him - which certainly isn't a bad thing, depending on one's feelings towards the actor - there are enough elements in 50 First Dates to appeal to viewers that haven't had much fun at his previous films. The chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore - who first teamed up for The Wedding Singer - is undeniable, a match that goes a long way towards making the film far more compelling than it should be. Director Peter Segal does a much better job here of blending moments of comedy with mawkish dramatics than he did with Anger Management, last year's sporadically tedious Sandler/Jack Nicholson pairing. And while Sandler is playing a similar sort of person here - except, of course, without the hostile tendancies - he does a fantastic job of turning Henry into an endearing figure. That Henry is willing to convince Lucy of his love every single day is an incredibly romantic gesture, but Sandler pulls it off without turning the character into someone that's overwhelmingly sentimental. Barrymore is just as good as Lucy, and effectively veers between comedy and drama (who would've thought Barrymore's most impressive performance in years would be in an Adam Sandler flick?) The supporting cast is expectedly quirky, with Sandler regular Rob Schneider an obvious stand-out as Henry's wacky buddy Ula. Sean Astin sheds his Lord of the Rings image playing the bodybuilding brother of Lucy, sporting an unexpectedly buff body and comedic speech impediment. And it wouldn't be a Sandler movie without appearances from Allen Covert and Peter Dante, though both receive less screen time than is generally preferable. But really, 50 First Dates belongs to Sandler and Barrymore - whose chemistry ensures that the film remains intriguing even during sillier sections, and encourages us to root for them to live happily ever after. And that's just about all that matters when you're talking about a romantic comedy.
The Longest Yard
Get Smart (January 27/09)
Based on the 1960s Don Adams series, Get Smart casts Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart - an intelligence analyst whose dreams of working in the field are finally realized after several agents are either exposed or killed at the hands of a megalomaniacal super-villain (Terence Stamp's Siegfried). Director Peter Segal has infused Get Smart with a bland, hopelessly hackneyed sensibility that's reflected in the majority of its undeniably tedious action set-pieces, as the filmmaker - working from Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember's screenplay - places a consistent emphasis on interludes of an exceedingly familiar and downright tired nature (ie Smart must make his way through a perilous laser grid). The decision to shoot on digital equipment only exacerbates the movie's decidedly low-rent feel, with the absence of film especially apparent during the myriad of underwhelming action sequences - thus draining such moments of the excitement they've clearly been designed to generate. Far more problematic, however, is Carell's surprisingly ineffective turn as the central character; in his efforts at aping Adams' distinctive take on Maxwell Smart, Carell offers up a stiff, oddly unnatural performance that becomes increasingly difficult to overlook as the movie progresses (a miscast Anne Hathaway fares just as poorly as Smart's tough-as-nails partner). And while there are a few admittedly humorous segues sprinkled here and there - ie Smart's queasy trip aboard a jet - Get Smart primarily comes off as a manufactured piece of work that's been geared towards the lowest common denominator.
Grudge Match casts Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as lifelong boxing rivals who reluctantly agree to participate in one final fight, with the movie, for the most part, following Stallone's Razor and De Niro's The Kid as they prepare for the aforementioned altercation alongside their respective trainers. It's a relatively strong premise that's employed to curiously lifeless effect by filmmaker Peter Segal, with the initial novelty of the setup (and the impending battle between Rocky Balboa and Jake La Motta) slowly-but-surely crushed beneath a narrative that's rife with familiar, eye-rollingly conventional elements. It is, as such, not surprising to note that Grudge Match grows more and more tedious as time progresses, as Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman's emphasis on run-of-the-mill character elements - eg The Kid attempts to get closer to his estranged son (Jon Bernthal's B.J.), Razor copes with the sudden appearance of an estranged ex-girlfriend (Kim Basinger's Sally) - perpetuates the film's decidedly less-than-engrossing atmosphere. The film's lazy vibe extends especially to Stallone and De Niro's paycheck-cashing performances, with the two actors unable to wholeheartedly step into the shoes of their one-dimensional characters - which, in turn, prevents the viewer from working up an ounce of interest in their continuing exploits. By the time the stale and hopelessly uninvolving title bout rolls around, Grudge Match has certainly confirmed its place as a palpably needless vanity project that one endures more than one enjoys.