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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Worst Actors - Adam Sandler: Part 1

Adam Sandler's stupid fucking horse face
We’re in this one for the long haul, folks.  A MULTI-PARTER!

Saturday Night Live has been a successful springboard for many comedic performers since its premiere in 1975.  The original cast launched such notable comics of the 70’s and beyond as Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and… (ahem) Eddie Murphy… (ahem, ahem…  You’ll be seeing that name again soon...).  So, a show this popular, that has been this successful at launching a-list careers is bound to have a knack for finding the freshest young comedic talent out there, right?

The mid-to-late 80’s were not good to Saturday Night.  After a famously-devastating sixth season that saw the first year without founding producer Lorne Michaels as well as interruption by a Writer’s Guild strike, SNL struggled to find its legs again.  Still, late night mainstay pressed on and by 1985, the show was revitalized with comic power-players like Robert Downey, Jr., and Dennis Miller.  Still, even after a full five years, favor was still wobbling due primarily to behind-the-scenes conflicts and a lack of cast chemistry.  Fans only remember the great sketches, not the bad or mediocre, and despite a heavy dose of individual talent, the cast as a whole was having trouble landing heavily recognizable and cheer-worthy characters like it was in the 70’s.  This led to yet another… overhaul of sorts.

The beloved series was almost entirely recast and by the late 80’s new rising talents like Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman and Mike Meyers joined the ill-fated show.  It turned out to be the right move and SNL was a big hit again.  Then… something happened.  For the sixteenth season, in 1990, the cast was retooled again, as well as expanded.  During the season, various roll-over cast members from the 80’s were steadily being replaced by new performers, and mid-season, in 1991, one such performer, a young jokester named Adam Sandler, was brought on.

Sandler was never really a heavy-hitter on SNL.  Compared to powerhouse players like Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey and Chris Rock, Sandler just kind of floated in the background.  His most notable contribution to the show was Operaman and.. well… the less said about THAT the better.  Sandler’s comic style tended to baffle people more than anything else.  His odd vocalizations, baby talk, o-face expressions and obnoxious tone more or less highlighted his contributions to SNL, which mostly came down to bit parts.  Sandler spent roughly three years like this until 1994, when he got to use a large chunk of the popular Weekend Update segment to perform “The Chanukah Song”.  This was a turning point in his career.  

It is important to note that even before his hiring on SNL, Sandler had been bouncing around the big and small screen and also appeared in a few motion picture productions from SNL’s producer, Lorne Michaels.  Sandler’s first recognized appearance to the mass audience was that of a recurring bit character on the mega-hit 80’s family sitcom The Cosby Show.  The character, named Smitty, appeared off and on for roughly one season as a friend to teenager Theo Huxtable.  Around this same time he gave us a little taste of the future with Going Overboard.

To call Going Overboard one of the worst comedies of the 80’s does not even begin to cover it.  It is, without a doubt, one of the most miserable, joyless, unfunny works I’ve ever seen.  If that is not bad enough, Going Overboard is not even close to Sandler’s worst.  No, that is yet to come.  Still, suffice it to say that Sandler trying to play sincere and funny in a movie that is both narcissistic (another trait we will see over and over from Sandler),and immensely unfunny is quite sad indeed.  

During the last few years of his SNL run, Sandler continued to appear in movies such as Lorne Michael's production of Coneheads, which was a huge exercise in mediocrity, and Airheads, a bland comedy about a hair metal band holding workers at a radio station hostage to get airplay.  Consider, for a moment, a fake hair metal band, post-Nirvana, ranting about the direction music is going, when just about every song on the soundtrack is an ear-bleeding mess.  The only saving grace of this film is a fair performance by veteran performer Joe Mantegna.

It was shortly after this dry spell that Sandler got his first top-billing role in Billy Madison.  I can go on all day about this movie, but I’ll leave it at this.  Billy Madison is one of those movies that, for some strange reason, has maintained a degree of credibility among people around my age.  The Gen-Xers who absorbed the 90’s like it was some sort of skin infection seem to still remember the movie with a certain level of fondness.  I have great nostalgia for the 90’s, but Billy Madison is one of those.. examples, of how nostalgia goggles are not only blinding, but embarrassing… for everyone.

He followed this up in 1996 with Happy Gilmore… which was WORSE!  Happy Gilmore is such a shameless sellout of a movie, filled with Sandler's trademark self-aggrandizement, despite having virtually the same plot as Happy Gilmore (out-of-place misfit goes to school/plays golf and takes down a bad dude who is rude to people).  Still, forget that for a minute.  Consider that we, as an audience, are supposed to root for this guy.  The guy that gets into a fistfight with an elderly Bob Barker (in one of Sandler’s trademark favor-cameos) and tries to sell us Subway sandwiches throughout the entire movie.  

Around this time, people were starting to.. catch on.  Sandler was turning out to not only be a tremendously untalented performer, but he was also willing to whore himself out to any company willing to stick their brand in his movies.  Keep in mind that his films do make money at the box office, but a large share of his profits come JUST from product placement.  So even if his film is a huge flop, as many of them were and will be in the future, he still benefits by being a big-screen pitchman.  Now, I don’t mind pushing products to sell them, but the pervasiveness of product placement in Sandler’s movies is an example of some of the most shameless shilling since Nintendo and Universal Studios in the Wizard.

Now, the very same year that Happy Gilmore was inflicted on audiences, Sandler showed up in another completely forgotten piece of trash called Bulletproof, alongside In Living Color veteran Damon Wayans.  Bulletproof doesn’t matter.  It left no impact on audiences, or even the careers of its stars, so I will not dwell on it.  No, unfortunately, much to my utter dismay, I have to talk about an Adam Sanlder vehicle I actually like.  The ONLY one I actually like.  Sandler kind disappeared for a few years in the mid-90’s.  He did some standup (that nobody cared about) and then made a big movie comeback in 1998.

The Wedding Singer was an 80’s love-fest with a heartwarming, simple romance and a freaking awesome soundtrack.  Also, there was the shocking fact that Sandler was… actually good in it.  He was not required to do much mind you, but he had a sincerity and warmth that you need to pull off a performance like that.  The Wedding Singer was in the vein of a lot of comedies around the same time.  Jim Carrey was showing his chops in the excellent film the Truman Show and comedy as a whole was starting to take a different turn mood-wise thanks to the influence of filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz.  To stay relevant, Sandler had to evolve.  The loud, pushy persona just would not cut it anymore… right..?

Ho, boy.  Okay.  In my high school years, I used a lot of self-deprecation as a sort of defense mechanism.  "People can’t make fun of me if I’m willing to make fun of myself," I felt, and it turned out to often be true.  Also, me being a tremendous smartass, I often laid out some deafening one-liners and insults to my fellow students, which was more often met with laughs and “Oh! SNAP!”’s rather than slugs to the face.  This was, as I said, because I did not take myself too seriously and this led me to be able to be honest in a more indirect way, masking my arrogance (all teens are arrogant) with sarcasm.  I was also one of about eight white students in my entire school, so being a little jokey supposedly helped to ease the tension that I was told I should have felt, though I really didn’t.  

A movie called the Waterboy came out in the later months of 1998, and some teens thought it clever to compare me to the lead character, not for any particular reason except that I was white, though this did not last long, primarily due to the fact that by the time the movie actually came out, a vast majority of people, including many of my classmates, hated it.  So, one could attribute my vast hatred for the Waterboy to the five weeks or so that it was funny to laugh at my expense, but I would argue otherwise.  I find it, instead, much more plausible that the Waterboy is a dreadful, soulless, witless, escaped experiment that somehow mutated and slogged and flowed through the public consciousness like a chlamydia outbreak at a commune in the late 60’s.  I cannot emphasize this enough. I find nothing redeemable about the Waterboy.  It is, and I am being 100% serious here, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.  I will watch North, Battlefield Earth and Son of the Mask simultaneously, on a LOOP before I willingly sit through one second of the Waterboy again.

It was, about this time, that I begin to grow a tremendous hatred for Adam Sandler as a performer.  I was still, at least for the time, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I mean, I liked the Wedding Singer enough that I was willing to make an exception.  Maybe things will not be this bad again…

Continued in part 2

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