Please be advised: This review was written on January 28, 2012, after a test screening of the film.
Thanks to the good folks at Nielsen, I had the opportunity to see the new Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg comedy That’s My Boy six months before its release date, theoretically to give them feedback about it, but when a man asked my wife and I what we thought of the movie after it was over, he immediately walked away when we expressed our distaste. I assume that they threw away our comment cards without looking at them. “Well, now we know how Jack and Jill got made,” I told my wife.
As it was a pre-screening for marketing purposes, it was expressly instructed that members of the media were not to attend. As the head and arms behind GlasgowtotheMovies.com (heard of it?) – a card-carrying member of the media elite – I feel obligated to abide by these rules and post my review of the film on Facebook as a citizen rather than an entertainer/provocateur. My guess is there will be no screenings for critics anyway. Nick Swardson, one of Sandler’s go-to supporting players, has openly expressed his disdain for critics. Not that a lack of critic screenings will matter much, I can already tell you what they’re going to say…
This movie sucks.
I had higher hopes going in than I might have if it were just an Adam Sandler movie. I had never heard of the movie prior to getting the invite (and in fact, at this time IMDb still has the film listed under its working title – Donny’s Boy), but some quick research informed me that the movie co-starred Andy Samberg (Hot Rod, Lonely Island), not to mention the break star of 1991’s Cool as Ice… the one and only Vanilla Ice. The blurbs all pretty much gave the same plot synopsis: Donny (Sandler), who grew famous for sleeping with his teacher as a twelve-year old, now has to crash the wedding weekend of his son Todd (Samberg) in an attempt to create a television reunion that will garner him enough cash to pay off his back taxes.
Would you be surprised if I told you that the two men, though very different in attitude and demeanor, come to love and respect one another by the end? I know it’s hard to believe, given that Donny is a louse who swears profusely with no regard to the situation – it’s funnier that way, right? – while Todd is an upstanding workaholic with an obsessive compulsive disorder that requires him to keep a pair of clean underwear in his breast pocket at all times. When Donny shows up at Todd’s boss’ palatial estate at the same time that his fiancée’s parents are visiting, you just know some hijinks bout to go down. Indeed, Donny tells a ribald story about how he and Todd are best friends (trying to hide their true relationship, natch), all the while making his son look like an idiot and simultaneously hitting on the grandmother. Oh, yes, it wouldn’t be an Adam Sandler flick without a foul-mouthed grandma.
Perhaps Donny can be forgiven his sailor talk – after all he’s from Boston. That’s evident from Sandler’s awful accent (circa Little Nicky, but a bit huskier). In addition, he’s a raging
alcoholic advertisement. One of the character’s most prominent quirks is that he’s a venue for the most shameless product placement – correct me if I’m wrong here – in all of moviedom. At any given time, Donny is able to pull an ice cold bottle of Budweiser brand beer from a sock or a pocket. To be fair, there are a few times when he downs a Rolling Rock instead. The boss character’s private baseball diamond is, similarly, plastered with Budweiser logos. Keep in mind that this in no way services a joke. The closest this comes to being comedic is in, “Oh, he likes beer so much that he always has one on hand.” Is that supposed to be funny?
That question comes up again and again throughout That’s My Boy. When meeting his boss’ mother for the first time, Todd makes a contrived statement about the older man’s management style being like a rollercoaster. “I’d ride him all day,” Todd says enthusiastically. Under-valued illegal immigrant house servants lick the plates of the guests when nobody is looking. Hilarious? There is a fat stripper. Hysterical? The movie seems to feel that these are high comedy in and of themselves and refuses to go anywhere with them. The audience at the screening, for its part, laughed uproariously at every sort-of joke thrown onto the screen. Granted, there are a handful of genuinely inspired moments – such as a scene involving shared headphones for a walkman – but then we return to back tattoos as a source of humor. “Oh, that is an unusual thing to have a tattoo of on your back.”
But to me, the most disgusting thing about the movie is in the way it shoehorns allegedly dramatic and emotional moments into the action without rhyme or reason. Todd’s fiancée shows him a book that Donny wrote about his Van Halen childhood entitled “Head in the Class” (get it?), and do keep in mind that this is after Todd’s father has made him miserable in a myriad of ways – primarily by inexplicably earning the respect of Todd’s boss and new family and almost getting him beat up by his girl’s brother. As Todd opens the book, he notices an inscription on the first page explaining that the book is dedicated to him. “Call me,” the dedication ends, achingly. The audience becomes deathly silent, the music becomes tender and soft, Samberg has a tear in his eye. What? Am I really supposed to buy this?
On the comment cards after the movie, I tended to focus on the product placement and the false emotion as my two biggest gripes. They’re both done without embarrassment – belying the fact that not only do the creators of That’s My Boy have no sense of how to write a film with any heart, they also never had any intent of trying to. The movie is a string of tasteless jokes held together by the thinnest of a plot. The only surprise in the changing relationship dynamic between Todd and Donny is in how swiftly it comes and how readily the audience is expected to just accept it. That seems to be the mindset behind making and releasing the movie, honestly: the audience will just accept it.