Big Daddy

In its own little universe, safely tucked away inside a dark theater, “Big Daddy” seems harmless enough. It is when the lights come up and the doors swing open that the film’s flaws become overwhelmingly apparent.

Here is a film co-starring and aimed at children that encourages the sort of behavior that will make parents think twice the next time they want to take their kids to the movies. It won’t be long before kids all over America will be urinating on the sides of public buildings or tossing objects into the path of oncoming in-line skaters.

I have to admit that I actually enjoyed “Big Daddy” while I was watching it. Even at its most obnoxious, the film still displayed a big heart. However, the moment I got home and tried to formulate my thoughts for this review, reality stepped in and took a whiz on my train of thought.

First and foremost, I must admit that I like Adam Sandler. While I find it hard to support some of his career choices, I thought “The Wedding Singer” was absolutely delightful. I even enjoyed “The Waterboy,” although I felt that it was a step back for Sandler.

With “Big Daddy,” Sandler tires to have his cake and eat it too, and the results are less than beneficial. His character, Sonny Koufax, is one-half “Happy Gilmore” and one-half Robbie Hart from “The Wedding Singer,” and the result is a marriage made in hell.

What made “The Wedding Singer” so irrepressible was that Sandler’s character was basically a decent guy who had to work through some issues. Koufax starts off as a loutish bore, and wears out his welcome long before Sandler can turn on the charm and redeem the character. Even when he does the predictable 180 degree turn in the third act, it is so unconvincing you wonder why he even tried.

Director Dennis Dugan lacks the ability to make the film more than it is. Dugan directed Sandler in “Happy Gilmore,” which even at its most obnoxious was still a sweet movie. Unfortunately, Dugan also directed “Problem Child,” and that film’s mean-spirit seems to have manifested itself in “Big Daddy.” Anti-social behavior can be funny, but not when it is mean-spirited, and that is the film’s fatal flaw.

It doesn’t help that the film’s screenplay, originally written by Steve Franks and then dissected and rewritten by Sandler and Tim Herlihy (who co-wrote “The Wedding Singer” and “The Waterboy”), is as incoherent as they come. Nothing makes sense in this film, which resembles nothing more than a series of cruel sketches.

Despite the ill-wind that blows through the film, Sandler is quite good as Sonny, a 32-year-old slacker who completed law school but never went after the bar. Instead, he lives in a comfortable apartment with his roommate Kevin Gerrity (Jon Stewart), living off a $200,000 insurance settlement after a cab ran over his foot.

He may be 32, but Sonny acts like a child. Just ask his girlfriend Vanessa (Kristy Swanson), who is ready to move on to the next level of their relationship. Vanessa wants Sonny to grow up, and leaves on an extended business trip to give him time to think it over.

The day after Kevin leaves to China on business, Sonny answers the door and finds little blond- haired moppet Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse) standing there. Julian, Sonny learns, is the love child of Kevin, and has been sent to live with his father after his mother becomes sick. Through numerous contrived plot devices, Sonny ends up caring for Julian, pretending to be Kevin in order to keep the kid out of an orphanage.

Sonny sees Julian (who changes his name to “Frankenstein”) as an opportunity to impress Vanessa, who has moved on to an older man with a “five-year plan.” Stuck with the kid, Sonny becomes a reluctant father. He tries his best, but is no more equipped to raise a kid than a puppy. Deciding not to make the same mistakes his father made raising him, Sonny pretty much allows Julian to do whatever he wants.

It’s these life lessons that raise an eyebrow. When Julian has to go to the bathroom, Sonny decides to teach snooty waiters who wouldn’t let them use the restroom a lesson by having the kid urinate on the side of their building. When he arrives at McDonald’s after the breakfast cutoff time, instead of accepting the reality of the situation, Sonny goes into a tirade and belittles everyone.

The script eventually has Sonny wising up, realizing that Julian needs more than a best friend, he needs a father. By the time Sonny takes his responsibility seriously, child welfare has caught on to the rouse, leading to one of those hokey courtroom scenes where everyone but the judge seems to be in control.

There are some funny moments in the film (Sonny using newspaper to cover up Julian’s spills), but there are also some really awkward moments as well. Steve Buscemi plays a homeless man whose lifestyle is a choice rather than a circumstance. I can understand Buscemi’s loyalty for appearing in “Big Daddy” (he co-starred with Sandler in “Wedding Singer”), but his character is totally unnecessary.

Then there is Sonny’s pursuit of Joey Lauren Adams, who plays a lawyer who interrupts her busy schedule to fall in love with him. Her name is Layla (Sonny says he liked her song), and not for one moment do you believe that someone so together would actually fall for Sonny, especially since she is the sister of Kevin’s fiancee and knows his history. Her appearance at the end of the film comes as no surprise, since everything Layla does seems calculated to serve the story rather than the character or the actress playing her.

Rob Schneider tries to milk a few laughs from the ignorant foreigner routine, but it wears thin, and so do the “Hooters” jokes Sonny pelts Kevin’s fiancee (Leslie Mann) with frame after frame.

Even though the filmmaker’s make a valiant attempt to redeem their antics towards the end of the film, it is a case of too little too late. The damage has been done, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we start reading that in-line skating accidents are up this summer.



Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart, Rob Schneider, Cole & Dylan Sprouse, Kristy Swanson, Joseph Bologna, Steve Buscemi, Leslie Mann and John Mostel in a film directed by Dennis Dugan. Rated PG-13. 95 Minutes.


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