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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, James Caan, Leighton Meester, Ciara, Nick Swardson, Vanilla Ice, Tony Orlando
DIRECTED BY
Sean Anders
SCREENPLAY
David Caspe, David Wain, Ken Marino
MPAA RATING
Rated R
RUNNING TIME
est. 115 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Columbia Pictures
DVD/BLU-RAY EXTRAS
This single-disc release comes in an Elite Blu-ray case and includes a code to stream an UltraViolet digital copy. Extras include a Gag Reel (6:07/HD) and Deleted Scenes (13:55/HD). Who Are All These People? (10:51/HD) spotlights some of the cast, while Greetings From Cape Cod (6:47/HD) provides on-set footage. The extras conclude with Classy Rick's Bacon and Eggs (5:49/HD), a featurette about the strip club in the film.
 "That's My Boy" Review 
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I wanted to like That's My Boy, Adam Sandler's first film after the Razzie Award-sweeping Jack & Jill. There is a great film trying to get out here, a kernel of an idea that could have been brilliant but the film simply never blossoms into brilliance. Instead, That's My Boy settles for mediocre yet edgy humor.

For those of you who've been reading my reviews for awhile, you'll already know that I have a soft spot in my heart for Sandler's films. With only a few exceptions, I've never given them raves but, at least until Jack & Jill, I've also never trashed them.

Not even Little Nicky.

The simple truth is that there's something about Adam Sandler I just plain like and enjoy watching on the big screen. While I'd never stretch to calling him a great actor, I admire the camaraderie that exists in his films and nearly always have enjoyed myself while watching him. I've also long believed him to be an underrated, if limited, actor. Sandler's appearances in such films as Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me and Funny People have shown Sandler is able to stretch beyond his naughty schoolboy shtick.

That's My Boy is unquestionably funnier than Jack & Jill, even if much of the humor is almost stunningly dated. There are scenes in the film that are laugh out loud funny, and it's hard not to admire Sandler's sheer conviction in portraying his character of Donny with so much raunch and edginess that it starts to feel like you're watching a Farrelly Brothers film.

I admit bold, edgy humor even when it crosses the line and occasionally offends. I'm not opposed to sitting in a film and leaving the theater because a filmmaker crossed the line and dared to taunt my senses with issues that invade my personal psyche'. Heck, if I'm being honest I even enjoy being offended to a certain degree. But, when you're dealing with ultra-sensitive issues and ultimately you make light of them you'd damn well better have everything in order and do it well.

It seems, at times, like Sandler may even be going for something along the lines of a Sandleresque version of his dark portrayal in P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love. Unfortunately, That's My Boy isn't Punch-Drunk Love and too often the film comes off as a lazy and ill-conceived effort that is likely to only please the most hardcore of Sandler's fans. In other words, your average 45-year-old man-child.

I can't deny it. There's a darkness to That's My Boy that I hated. Let's face it. As a society, we still laugh at the idea of the whole teacher/student liaison thing. Maybe it's because we all grew up with a crush on at least one of our teachers, and the idea that someone actually scored in that situation could best be described as a repulsive turn-on. There's a weird duality to it all - We know that teachers shouldn't seduce their teachers. We know it's wrong. We know it's an abuse of power. But, "Man, she was hot."  Director Sean Anders and screenwriter David Caspe could have made this material both edgy and funny.

Ultimately, they nearly failed with the mild exception of a few scenes that genuinely gel and entertain and give a glimpse of just how good this film could have been. 

I can deal with edgy, dark humor if it seems to be delivered with a sense of purpose. However, the only purpose for what exists within That's My Boy seems to be cheap laughs at the expense of just about everyone in the film.

That's just not funny.

Doing an almost eerie spoof of the Mary Kay Letourneau teacher/student seduction case, That's My Boy starts off in the 1980's with a young Donny (Justin Weaver) impressing his classmates with his machismo and his eye set squarely upon his hottie teacher, Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), who in rather quick order returns the young man's attention with her own seductiveness and the two begin an affair. The two are rather quickly discovered and Ms. McGarricle, now pregnant with Donny's baby, is sentenced to twenty years in prison. Donny is to get custody of the baby when he turns eighteen-years-old, a custody that seems to turn out bad for both father and child.

With Ms. McGarricle in prison, Donny plays his reality television style fame for as much success as he can. Eventually, the fame dries up and his son, named Han Solo (Andy Samberg), tires of his father and leaves home and assumes the name Todd. Todd has seemingly reversed his father's horrific life cycle and become successful in hedge funds. He has a beautiful fiancee' (Leighton Meester) and seems to be well on his way despite an encyclopedia full of neuroses, quirks, odd habits and unreasonable fears that were borne out of his beyond dysfunctional childhood.

And, yes. All of this is played for laughs.

Rape is played for laughs. Incest is played for laughs. Excessive boozing is played for laughs. The list really goes on and on. While some of this is funny, far too much of it seems to be a case of pushing the envelope simply to be pushing the envelope. That's My Boy is the kind of film that's so vulgar that you'll feel guilty for laughing when you do (and you will laugh), and you'll likely leave the theater wanting to rush home and take a shower to clean off the human waste and psychological crud that has enveloped you from watching the film.

I found myself at times during the moments following the film trying to bargain with myself by saying "Well, you know. Sandler at least doesn't try to say the whole child seduction thing turned out well. He does show the negatives. The teacher's in jail, Donny's pretty much a hardcore loser (with the usual Sandler heart) and the product of the affair has lived his whole life with a stunning list of issues including an insatiable need to carry around a pair of underwear in his pocket because of the day his dad left him at school and he defecated in his pants.

Seriously.

It actually bothers me that Sandler gave his kids a cameo in this film. It bothers me that there were younger characters in this film, because this simply isn't a film that any child should ever watch. No child should be forced to see a scene played for laughs where a teacher exploits them sexually.

And there's more. Quite a bit more.

This is not to say that all is negative in the world of That's My Boy, and despite the fact that I simply can't bring myself to even serve up an average rating I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the film's strengths.

First off, it is funny and occasionally very funny. There's something refreshing about R-rated Sandler and Sandler absolutely refusing to hold back. At times, the film feels like Sandler and his team took the basics of the script and just improvised the heck out of it. Despite the incredibly off-color material, part of the fun of watching That's My Boy is that everyone in the film is clearly having fun.

As is frequently true for Sandler films, much of the film lies in watching the garden variety cameos that will inevitably exist while also watching for the expected appearances from his usual buddies like Allen Covert, Nick Swardson and a host of others. Sandler tosses in some rather fun casting here, as well, including 70's singer Tony Orlando in a rather extended role as Donny's boss in the film. Vanilla Ice, I'm not kidding, is also here as one of Donny's oldest friends. Somewhat surprisingly, he's actually quite fun and clearly enjoying himself.

Todd Bridges. Check.

Nick Swardson. Check.

Ciara. Check.

Allen Covert. Check.

Rex Ryan. Check.

Erin Andrews. Oh yeah.

The list goes on and on and on.

James Caan is a bit of a hoot as a Catholic priest with a fiery temper, while Susan Sarandon even shows up in a bit of stunt casting that you may miss if you're not paying attention. For the record, she's awesome.

The film, directed by Sean Anders (writer of Hot Tub Time Machine and Mr. Popper's Penguins), would have likely worked on a far grander scale if things had been kept darker and if the tension had remained between father and son. Unfortunately, about halfway through the film we start to get the inevitable father/son bonding and the film really comes screeching to a halt. Han Solo/Todd's issues become minimized as he begins to see the "truth" behind his father's shenanigans and gains a better appreciation for his carefree life, never mind that he's actually the far more successful of the two in virtually every way one defines success even with all his quirks.

I tried. I really tried. I wanted to give Sandler the benefit of the doubt here, especially considering how much I've advocated for him and his films throughout most of my adult life.

But, I'm sorry Adam. It's not funny. What is passed off as an innocent teacher crush brought vividly to life is, quite simply, the rape of a child. An unexpected relationship that disrupts the impending nuptials is, in reality, nothing less than incest played off for laughs. It goes on and on and, quite sadly, it derails what could have easily been a rather entertaining film. Even when you played the man-child with a teacher crush in Billy Madison, there was an innocence and a purity to it.

This is just plain sad, Adam, and I'm hoping it's not evidence that you're well of creativity has dried up. If so, please do us all a favor and have the decency to retire just as Billy Joel did when he basically announced "I've said everything I had to say." If this is what you have left to say, I'm done listening.

Oh, and one more thing. STOP the stupid voices. The few scenes in That's My Boy that were meant to be sincere and warm were unconvincing and bland thanks to your decision to play Donny with a Boston trailer park accent that was made even weirder by the fact that no one else in the film did the same thing.

Nice tattoo, though. I'll give you that.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  
    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
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    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

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