Adam Sandler’s four-picture deal with Netflix hasn’t yet produced a good comedy, but it is has provided an increased level of self-indulgence for his already plentifully indulgent production company, crony employment office, and travel agent Happy Madison Productions. Because Sandler still associates with a number of his old Saturday Night Live buddies, his newest Happy Madison projects can function as a retro-SNL fantasy league, circling back to cover the team-ups that never happened back in their ’90s heyday (as well as locations where Sandler and company have yet to vacation).
For example, while Sandler’s friendship with David Spade goes back over two decades, the pair hasn’t ever appeared in a buddy comedy together. Their onscreen partnership has been limited to cameos and Spade’s role in the catch-all Grown Ups movies—until The Do-Over, a slapdash comic adventure about, appropriately or perhaps ironically, making up for lost time. Spade plays Charlie McMillan, who in the movie’s opening scenes, attends his high school reunion and reconnects with Max Kessler (Adam Sandler), the former best friend he has somewhat inexplicably not seen or spoken to since graduation. Max invites Charlie for a weekend hangout—indefinitely extended when he decides to fake their deaths in a boat explosion, giving them both a chance to start over and forge a better life that more closely resembles a beer commercial.
Even before the movie gets to actually plugging Corona and Bud Lite, The Do-Over clearly aspires to that aesthetic: swooping overhead shots of oceans, montages of bikini-clad babes, and dudes having fun in pools and on oversized boats. Director Steven Brill is one of Sandler’s rotating crew of mostly interchangeable directors, though this is his first Happy Madison picture since Mr. Deeds—in other words, he last directed Sandler when his comedies were consistently tolerable. Brill is a little more antic than fellow Sandler regulars Dennis Dugan or Frank Coraci, a little more apt to move the camera around, but looking for even the faintest personal comic stamp in a Sandler movie is a fool’s errand. It no more matters that Brill made Deeds or Little Nicky than it matters that Dugan somehow directed both the inspired You Don’t Mess With The Zohan and the execrable Grown Ups.
The Do-Over has some of the same home-movie vibes as Grown Ups and its sequel, only applied to a movie where things of consequence actually happen. The team at Happy Madison seems game yet ill-equipped to handle this change. As Charlie and Max assume new identities, are pursued by a variety of menacing figures, and uncover a poorly thought-out conspiracy, occasional narration from Spade papers over frequent jumps in time and location (shockingly, Sandler did not insist on filming the entire movie in Puerto Rico, only a mere portion). It takes a certain blithe self-confidence to take this Scotch-taped-together plot and run it out well past the 90-minute mark.
Casting Spade as Charlie turns out to be the movie’s boldest, strangest gambit: It actually represents a stretch for him as an actor, as quiet, unassuming, sad-sack Charlie issues not a single sarcastic dismissal for the film’s entire running time. The break in smarm is welcome, but it might simply be the logical endgame to Spade’s late-period film appearances (mostly for Happy Madison), where his function has been to sound sarcastic and project the image of a sarcastic person but not actually land any zingers. In any event, Spade’s reticence leaves Sandler a bit more engaged than usual, recapturing a little of his old loose-cannon vibe before a late-movie twist careens him back into more cynically sentimental territory. (Oddly, there’s a slight Funny People vibe, complete with an appearance from Torsten Voges, the German actor who played Sandler’s doctor in that film. Even the title sounds like that movie’s fake Sandler comedy Re-Do. The only things missing here are Funny People’s insight, intelligence, self-awareness, polish, emotional depth, and laughs).
The Do-Over is a de facto R-rated movie for Sandler, with the attendant bad language and sex jokes, but most of the faux-naughty stuff seems like an afterthought. The jokes that work best fill in the sad details of Charlie’s life: the fact that he manages a bank within a supermarket or the way his wife’s eulogy for him begins with “Charlie, you tried” and gets more distracted from there. The movie also makes okay use of Kathryn Hahn (as a mysterious figure from Max’s previous life) and Paula Patton, whose ability to look cheerful even in the face of David Spade’s romantic interest becomes, somewhat cleverly, a plot point.
Even the presence of Hahn and Patton can’t stop some sourness from seeping in. “I’m so tired of women lying to me and fucking me over!” Spade cries at the climax. With that, a movie about regrets with a silly but amusing hook says to hell with it and blames everything on duplicitous ladies. The ’90s version of The Do-Over would have paired a snarky, cowardly Spade with a goofball weirdo Sandler. Now they’re just two more bros-before-hos. If Happy Madison is handing out infinite do-overs, maybe the next Netflix picture can give Tim Meadows a chance.