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Director: Steven Brill
Writers: Kevin Barnett, Chris Pappas
Stars: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Paula Patton
On a list of movies that start with great promise, Adam Sandler‘s latest film in his multi-picture deal with Netflix could certainly find a comfortable place. It’s so good in fact, for a short time, it very nearly erases the memory of last year’s dreadful Ridiculous 6. Nearly. It passes quickly though and the old-school Sandler returns with expected results.
At a school reunion, Charlie (David Spade) stands in the corner, watching his wife gyrate on the floor with her ex-husband. All around him are the memories of his lame, former life. The problem is, that former lame life is still the same. He wears the same clothes, works at the same job and drives the same car. He’s a wreck. In comes Max (Sandler), a devil-may care rebel type who lures Charlie away. They talk the old days, and he tells him he’s fulfilled his dream of being an FBI agent. He convinces Charlie to spend the weekend with him after his selfish wife takes off to a spa. Out on a luxury yacht, the boys party and act like kids again. Max has a plan to get Charlie out of his slump and goes through with it without asking. He fakes their deaths.
Charlie isn’t quite so thrilled but it doesn’t take long to accept his new lot when the identities they steal are some very wealthy men who were killed in mysterious ways, though that’s not something Max shares right away. All Charlie sees is the mansion in Puerto Rico and the Lamborghini in the garage. While they partake in the splendors of their new lives, trouble comes a knocking. Big trouble. They men they replace had the cure to cancer and some bad guys want it. As they go on the run to figure out what is happening, they meet up with Heather (Paula Patton), the wife of one of the dead men. I say meet up. They actually hit her with a Winnebago because you know, that’s funny. From there, it’s a road-ish comedy and the three have to stay one-step ahead of the goons to get their way out of this mess. Mess meaning everything it implies.
Directed by Steven Brill, the story is paper thin and really just an excuse to allow Sandler and Spade to cavort around in big boats and RV’s, doling out tired, dull jokes and site gages that are often hard to believe had anyone in the production thinking they were funny. But that’s not really surprising. What is though is realizing how long Sandler has been churning out these same movies for decades and seems content to do so. It’s just strange that as a performer, a comedian, and an actor, he has had no growth, no sense of moving with the times or crafting characters that have any depth. The same tired themes that were acceptable twenty years ago, but have rightfully and thankfully disappeared everywhere else, are still such pillar-like parts of his work, it feels like watching unreleased movies from the mid-90s, only the actors have aged. It’s uncomfortable.
There is no humor in The Do-Over and the ‘jokes’ are not just lifeless, they are offensive in most respects, but the efforts they go to make sure they are offensive is why it really falls so flat. Sandler and his films have never had the highest regard for its female characters and they hold the course here as well with women reduced to two traits: extreme sexual objects or plain out of their minds. That includes Max’s psychotic ex (Kathryn Hahn), who chases after him throughout the entire movie, intermittently trying to kill and then seduce him and his elderly mother (Renée Taylor) who is senile or in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Instead of any sense of worth, she is instead a target for constant verbal abuse from Max that is somehow meant to be funny. It isn’t. But women aren’t the only ones. There’s jabs at homosexuality, race, and a line up of stereotypes that are all cringe-inducing, from obnoxious twin kids to crazy ex-wives. And yet that offensiveness, which is something that a smart comedy could handle with some cleverness, is just boring. It’s archaic, delivered with no joy, and a blatant dislike for its audience.
The troubling issue is that actually, both Charlie and Max are good characters and with the right script, could and should have been funny. Spade is spot-on as a department store bank manager, utterly convincing as a shell of a man who has spent his adult life directionless, a weak punching bag for everything around him. Sandler, too, finds a few glimpses of character development, especially early on, and the two were one the right first page of something good. That’s what’s really frustrating. I want to like Sandler, an actor whose one defining performance in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Punch-Drunk Love earned him a lifetime of chances to do it again. But he resigned himself to this instead and while I continue to hope for better, it’s a bit like quicksand. The more I struggle to find that old Sandler magic, the more I sink in a pit of despair.
The Do-Over is exclusively on Netflix.