Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A Blockbuster A Week: Week Eight

I'm not sure why movie comedy stars have such a hard time holding their ground over the long haul. Maybe it's that whole "crying on the inside" clown thing … after a few years of making mass audiences laugh, too many comedians either start begging to be taken seriously (see: Jim Carrey, Robin Williams) or begin to look noticeably miserable on-screen (see: Eddie Murphy, and arguably Steve Martin).

Adam Sandler hasn't really gone the serious route yet–Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish were, after all, essentially comedies–and so far he's kept the misery at bay. But in a fascinating bit of meta-evolution, his movies have increasingly become an extended look at what it's like to be Adam Sandler. Both 50 First Dates and Click have inverted premises, but wind up at more or less the same place. The former is about a guy who has to recreate the day he fell in love over and over, in order to keep his chronically forgetful girlfriend up to speed; and the latter is about a guy who gets a magical remote that lets him fast-forward through days that he later wishes he'd lived in full. Both are about Sandler trying to humble himself, and remind himself to take life a little easier.

But then, isn't that what Adam Sandler movies have always been about? He and his slacker cronies create slobby, schmucky, generally comfortable spaces for audiences to settle in. The laughs are dopey–and always PG-13, which dulls a lot of their potential edge–and the messages are generally positive, inasmuch as they encourage Sandler's fans to exert the minimum amount of effort required to remake their lives into a permanent version of their high school junior year. Even the music in Sandler's movies is stuck in the past. Click opens with The Cars' "Magic," for flip's sake.

[Aside: Part of the reason I missed seeing a movie last week was because I had in-laws in town to entertain, and I had to get some work done early so that I could take a two-day mini-vacation with my wife while her folks watched our kids. Anyway, we took advantage of our time off to go to a local amusement park–which should be a post all to itself–and were surprised to find that the loudspeaker music was exclusively blasting songs produced between 1965 and 1985, all day long. Apparently, classic rock still connotes summer, no matter what year it actually is.]

Of course, the problem with Click–a hard one to ignore–is that it's not all that funny. The jokes are of the "hey that dorky guy's wearing a Speedo" variety, and Rob Schneider's inevitable cameo has him playing an Arab whose name Sandler mispronounces as "Hubba Bubba" (which might actually have been funny, had Schneider not stepped on the line with his retort, "I am not bubblegum!"). And I won't even get into the standard Sandler obsessions with torturing bratty little kids, kicking the crap out of effeminately officious types, and farting.

But like the underrated 50 First Dates, Click is surprisingly poignant. It's got a vision of a kind–albeit one borrowed from Groundhog Day and A Christmas Carol, with a touch of Back To The Future. (There's that Sandler '80s fetish again.) Reduced to its core elements, Click might seem pat. Heck, it is pat. But there's a reason why these kinds of stories get told and re-told, and why they leave audiences with a little lift in their step, wanting to be better people, at least in the short term. They reassure us–rightly or wrongly–that life gets better as it goes, and looks great in retrospect. It's really only right now that's shitty.

Last week I wrote that this summer has been lacking in movies that really get under an audience's skin–that mark the culture in some lasting way. I doubt Click will be the kind of all-timer that makes lists and such, but it's the kind of movie people like. It's a "cute" movie. It'll have a fair run at the box office, then skyrocket in popularity when it comes out on DVD and hits the cable circuit. It'll be a guaranteed ratings winner every time it plays on TBS.

And frankly, it's also the kind of movie that might get a critical re-evaluation over time. When people look back over the career of Adam Sandler–and someday they will–they won't be able to ignore Click's thematic resonance and basic clean-ness. It's a direct shot of what Sandler is all about, abundant with both his charms and faults. There's even a fascinating, tossed-off sense of style to the way the movie imagines the future. (Tellingly, it's like now, only with more things that glow in the dark.) Click has enduring appeal the same way that some weird old Bob Hope movie like Bachelor In Paradise reaches Hope fans, despite its sour stabs at suburban satire and elephantine comic style. (Because even in his movies' weakest moments, there's always a glimmer of Hope.)

Right now, the critic in me can see that Click is a predictable, trite, scattershot feel-good comedy. I also know I responded to it. Strongly. I expect I'll still be liking it in the decades to come.


This week's trailers-in-brief: I've been critical of the sloppiness of contemporary movie comedies, but I laughed out loud several times during my first look at Talladega Nights. It looks just as tonally skewed as every other laugher in the Will Ferrell catalogue, but when that cougar jumps on him … holy shit, that's funny.

On the flipside, my meager hopes for You, Me & Dupree fade further every time I see its awful, awful trailer. And while I know Kevin Smith fans would argue that his best jokes are too raunchy to stick into the Clerks 2 trailer, I'd argue that the fundamental problem with Smith is that he can't come up with even one decent trailer-friendly joke.

This week was my first exposure to The Last Kiss, a Tony Goldwyn-directed, Paul Haggis-scripted adaptation of a 2001 Gabriele Muccino romantic comedy, which is being marketed (wisely) as a Zach Braff film. There certainly looks to be a lot of Garden State atmosphere to this story of a young man contemplating a pre-marriage fling with another woman, and while I was able to forgive Garden State a lot of its "emo" self-indulgence, my initial reaction to The Last Kiss is tell all these navel-gazing, stubbornly juvenile whiners to grow the hell up.

Two more this week, which I'm not sure what to make of, starting with Step Up, a formulaic-looking inner-city dancer melodrama which may end up being worth seeing for the energetic dancing (but why must these kinds of movies fall back on the same tired story beats?). And then there's Monster House, a computer-animated kiddie horror comedy that looked terrible to me when I saw the teaser trailer last year, but now looks like an step up from the inexpressive, humorless The Polar Express (made by a lot of the same team). It may still suck, but the longer trailer has a few laughs, and the interactions/body labguage of the kids looks uniquely … kid-like.

No time this week to get into those freaky Sprite ads (the "sublymonal" ones) that baffle and enrage me before every screening lately. Maybe next week, along with Superman Returns.