Adam Sandler has never been a name synonymous for the most highbrow fare (save for the rare foray into dramatic roles). So when news of outrage and eventual walk offs from Native American actors on set of his latest movie “Ridiculous Six”, it seemed to be par for the course as far as I was concerned. Sandler has had a long tradition of poking fun at the simpleminded and the like for a joke and multiple figure payday. You know what they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It’s well known Sandler was first exposed to the general public on “Saturday Night Live” during the start of the 90’s after being a discovered and vetted by Dennis Miller. Being a relative newcomer with a few credits to his resume (some highlights including a 4 episode stint on “The Cosby Show”, “Remote Control”, and an “ABC After School Special” as a drug dealer), this was a huge break for him and the start of the juggernaut sometimes referred to as “The Sandman”. Sandler would grind it out as a writer for a year before rising to the coveted position as featured player in 1991. The start of the 90’s for SNL was a turbulent transition for the cast, but this era would usher in a number of classic bits, characters and cast members. During this time Sandler would be a staple on the show with characters such as “Canteen Boy”, and “Opera Man”. Sandler would come to befriend frequent collaborators David Spade, Norm McDonald, Tim Meadows and the late Chris Farley to name a few.
In his off time from the show he had minor success as a comedic actor with bit parts in movies most notably “Airheads”. Sandler would even record one of his first comedy records in 1993 “They’re All Gonna Laugh at You!”. 1995 would be his last season, later stating the reason for this exit was being fired by Lorne Michaels. Sandler would take his simple brand of comedy with him and set his sights on Hollywood.
The Birth of “The Simple Everyman”
The mid-90’s would begin a run of success for Sandler that would continue into the present starting with “Billy Madison”. This era would bring us the earliest iteration of what I call “The Simple Everyman”. Billy Madison epitomizes the standard ManChild who was given all the opportunities in the world to better himself, but refused to grow up until shit hit the fan and it inconvenienced his plush lifestyle. Another convention prevalent in Sandler’s films from here on out (probably at the insistence of the studio) is established here. That being the idiot with few redeeming qualities going for him until midway through the second act gets the girl and saves the day.
“Happy Gilmore” would introduce the facet of anger within the lovable idiot persona. Much like it’s predecessor, the plot is based our protagonist having the weight of his world thrust upon his shoulders as he must go against all odds to preserve his way of life. Happy is not alone through on his “Bro’s Journey”, (a plot structure made famous by Broseph Campbell) he’s accompanied by everyone’s favorite trope “The Wise Old Black Man” played by Carl Weathers, because obviously Morgan Freeman was busy.
In the end the hero saves the day, gets the girl and all is well in the buffoon’s universe. The end of the 90’s would find Sandler a little older and playing more grown (for him anyways) roles in movies like “Big Daddy” and “The Wedding Singer”, only detouring once more into ridiculous buffoon territory with “The Waterboy”. Looking back, I can’t believe that “The Waterboy” didn’t get more heat for the portrayal of it’s simple main character Bobby Boucher. Nothing against these movies, because on a surface level they have so many things going for it that make my inner 13 year old self laugh every time. The main thing to remember when investigating patterns is to find the origin. Sandler would go on to hone this character into a billion dollar industry for himself (along with his friends under the Happy Madison banner) and create a template for studios to produce movies that are color by numbers tax shelters.
“Happy Madison is a warm gun.”
Happy Madison was founded in 1999 after the success “The Wedding Singer/Waterboy” and would be the production machine that would allow Sandler & company to produce pet projects.
Starting out with the best intentions, Happy Madison would eventually allow Sandler along with his friends to get studios to foot the bill for vacations to exotic locales under the guise of making movies. Sandler’s production company is akin to that knucklehead guy who put forth the bare minimum of effort and got promoted to a position after someone retired or died where he was able to hire his friends and perpetuate the cycle. Most of the films produced by his company typically involve the same combination of the usual suspects,drinking buddies and former comedians he owed a favor or two.
Not being one to rock the boat for the sake of his fans Sandler’s flagship effort for Happy Madison was “Little Nicky” where you guessed it, it he plays a simple young man, with a twist his father is the devil! We once again follow “The Bros Journey” with a few more expensive dick and fart joke set pieces (lest I forget Hitler dressed up as a maid getting Pineapples shoved into his ass). It’s worth noting that Rodney Dangerfield played Lucifer in this movie and would end up playing God in his last role ever.
Sandler would begin paying it forward to his friends in 2001 producing and making cameos in films for David Spade and Rob Schneider (Joe Dirt and The Animal). In all honesty, I think that The Animal and The Hot Chick were favors to Rob Schneider done out of pity, but also possibly a very smart business move because every business has to report some kind of loss. Zipping through his producer credits up to 2006 you find hits: either in the form of remakes (Mr. Deeds, The Longest Yard), Sequels (Deuce Bigalow 2), misses: (usually involving David Spade) Dickie Roberts,The Benchwarmers. The mid aughts up to current time would find Sandler splitting time between being an actor and producer.
Work Smarter Not Harder
2006 would mark a transition for Sandler from “lovable but annoying meathead” to “moronic talent developer/producer/occasional actor” starting with “Click”. This film would employ all of the “Simple Everyman” tropes to date in a grown up capacity (Sandler being a parent in this film) along with a magical element in the form of a LITERAL universal remote control. The film that takes place in a world where Sandler once again has it all, including Kate Beckinsale was a success. “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” would fully employ all three titles in his multihypinate, introducing us to Kevin James as Happy Madison’s resident chubby, lovable simpleton with a heart of gold. On another level James seems like saccharine version of Chris Farley that the world had been missing, but sadly the corpse of Farley would have more charisma.
Sandler would next take a turn as comedic action star in “Don’t Mess with the Zohan”, territory that would put him in such esteemed company with name like Hulk Hogan (Suburban Commando), and Vin Diesel (The Pacifier). The same year he would produce “The House Bunny” and “Strange Wilderness”, hits and misses depending on who you ask. Wrapping up ’08 was the family friendly kid’s movie “Bedtime Stories”, teaming him with former costar Courtney Cox, Happy Madison regulars (Nick Swardson, Rob Schneider, Allen Covert), and even his wife a daughter Jackie and Sadie Sandler because when you’re the boss you can put your family in anything. Kevin James would get his shot at the leading man role in 2009’s ungodly successful “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” giving Sandler and Happy Madison Carte Blanche to make whatever the fuck they wanted to. “Grown Ups” would be the product of this newfound power bringing former SNL castmates Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider along for the ride on the gravy train made of fart jokes, thin premises and the stupidity of the general public.
Kevin James would stay on a roll with Happy Madison and go on to star in Zookeeper cementing himself as a key player in the roster of “talent”. “Just Go With It” would follow in the long tradition of Sandler placing his films along with himself, friends and family in an exotic locale as an “artistic decision”. He is not coy about admitting to doing this to get a free vacation on the studio’s dime something he’s been doing since “50 First Dates” a movie that some would say is what would happen if “Memento” had a female lead, had 100% less violence and was a romantic comedy. Sandler doubled down on the tried and true formula of average schlub has a two ridiculously attractive women as his love interests (Brooklyn Decker and Jennifer Anniston in this case to pander to all demographics young and old). Like his other films at the recent moment this was another financial success making almost 3 times the film’s $80 million budget (filming in paradise ain’t expensive ya know).
Sparing myself the disgust of having to think of the cinematic sins Sandler has committed in the last four years alone (Jack and Jill & Bucky Larson being neck and neck for top offender) and my sanity I’ll say Sandler may play an idiot on screen, but he knows what he’s doing or at the very least surrounded himself with semi-capable people.
Sandler’s production slate for the coming future of Happy Madison looks bleak and more of the same, mainly padded with sequels to cash in on nostalgia (Joe Dirt 2) or continuing stories of the unlikely hero few asked for (Paul Bart 2, Hotel Transylvania 2), and movies with titles like “Fat Man” and “Gold Diggers”. The only thing I can pray for is that either Sandler comes to his senses by getting conked in the head with a foreign object and forgetting who he is (possible unwritten Sandler spec script) or Satan comes to Earth to collect on his end of the bargain and takes the human husk of what we once knew as funnyman Adam Sandler to hell. Maybe while he’s there Satan will give him a scathing critique about what he got wrong with his depiction of Hell in “Little Nicky”. Whatever happens, I can only think is proof that “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”.