Saturday, May 28, 2016

Nope: THE DO-OVER


Has a movie star ever done less on screen than Sandler in any of his recent lackadaisical performances where he’s little more than a black hole of energy and appeal? Maybe, even after years of scraping near the bottom of the barrel with the dire likes of Grown Ups 2 and Blended, it was combined impact of the relative box office disappointment of his hard-R, but twisted funny, That’s My Boy in 2012 and the bad luck to stretch dramatic chops in two total flops, 2014’s Men Women & Children and 2015’s The Cobbler, that pushed him to do less than the bare minimum. Since then he’s slept through an action comedy (Pixels) and a western parody (The Ridiculous 6), each worse than the last. And each time around he fades under the spotlight, committing less and less to silly voices or high-concept goofiness. He lets the supporting players and desperate flop-sweat gross out gags do the heavy lifting while he appears to look forward to the next time the director calls cut so he can get on with his life.

I dutifully fired up Netflix to sample The Do-Over, the streaming service’s second film from a four-picture deal with Sandler. (Creatively it’s their worst original programming move, but since they keep the numbers secret there’s no telling if it pays off financially.) I quickly found that any attempt to write about it would be putting more thought and effort into it than anyone involved did. The story concerns two unlucky dopes (Sandler, sleepwalking, and David Spade, playing against type as a timid dummy instead of a sarcastic dummy) who fake their deaths to escape their miserable lives only to discover the plan goes awry when they end up in a conspiracy involving cancer drugs. If you think it sounds a bit more complicated than the typical Sandler material, you’d be mistaken. It’s a collection of dumb complications, sloppily plotted, lazily performed, and shot with all the flat visual interest of a stock photo with the watermark still attached. What would be worse: if Sandler has stopped trying, or if this is really the best he can do?

Why does it exist? Is it for the product placement, logos for cell phones and beers and others in a parade of brands prominently displayed? Is it to get attractive women, extras and featured performers (like Paula Patton) alike, in tight dresses, low-cut shirts, and bikinis? Is it to get Netflix to bankroll a trip? Long scenes take place on a tropical island, or in swimming pools, so it’s also another of his paid vacations with a little bit of a film shoot on the side. He’s brought along a host of his usual pals in front of the camera (Spade, Nick Swardson) and behind the scenes (director Steven Brill, veteran of Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, lackluster comedies that seem better in retrospect compared to this).  It’s such a flaccid, baggy, boring movie, working in cameos for all sorts of people I just felt sorry for, like Kathryn Hahn, Sean Astin, Michael Chiklis, and Matt Walsh. I felt worst for the great character actor Luis Guzmán, who has an embarrassing scene involving sweaty testicles, one of many desperate R-rated jokes fruitlessly attempting to yank some life into this dud.

And then if you happen to take the story seriously for even one second, the whole thing is even worse than the lack of laughs and narrative or visual interest. It’s wrapped in toxic masculinity’s misogynistic expression, blaming the characters’ misfortunes entirely on women who exclusively wish to torment, tease, trick, and otherwise torture the men in their lives. It ends with Spade repeatedly punching a woman in the stomach while shouting, “I’m sick of women lying to me!” The whole thing’s nothing you couldn’t get if you asked a dozen of the worst commenters on a shady website to write a screenplay about how much they feel wronged by women. If out of perverse curiosity you end up watching this movie you have my condolences. To review Sandler films is too often an exercise in finding rock bottom move ever lower.

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