Though he did have a few detractors when he was on Saturday Night Live between 1990 and 1995, nothing could have prepared us for the career New York-born comedian Adam Sandler would go on to have.
The public keeps enabling him, with his films performing relatively well for comedies, especially in the franchised Grown Ups and in team-ups with other stars like Just Go With It and 50 First Dates. He’s made some of the most critically reviled films of the last 20 years, and still he stands as one of the most popular comedians nowadays.
To understand that phenomenon, this list tries to tally some of his worst efforts, and figure out what was it that made them appealing to audiences worldwide. Now, granted, Sandler has shown sparks of a good actor buried deep in really lazy material, namely on dramas Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, Funny People and a few other titles. Those are the ones to go to if you want to see the good Sandler – these are only recommended if you want to understand how truly bad he can be.
10. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008)
In Sandler terms, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan is what passes for a better-than-usual film, and anyone who’s seen Dennis Dugan’s comedy starring Sandler as an Israeli ex-Special Forces Soldier turned New York City hairstylist knows that’s not a good sign. Most positive reviews of Zohan highlighted that, this time around, Sandler is actually trying to get a few laughs with an original character instead of just settling on his usual persona and cashing in on the easy money.
Costing around US$90 million dollars, Zohan made US$200 million on the box office, but there’s something to be said about this being the kind of humor Sandler goes for when he’s “really trying”. It’s not just that the movie is crude and vulgar, it is also disrespectful to a handful of cultures, has an ending that portrays all these ethnicities coming together to build a shopping mall (could there be a more obvious temple to capitalism?), and is overall not really that funny.
When he misses this big while you’re actually trying to do something good, it’s no wonder Sandler doesn’t do it that often.
9. I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Homosexual men and women all over the world shuddered when it was announced that Adam Sandler and Kevin James would get married in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. And the prospect of having an Adam Sandler comedy tackling gay marriage and other LGBTQ issues turned out to be as bad as everyone predicted.
The problem with Chuck & Larry isn’t only that it uses the proposition of straight men trying to pass for a gay couple as a source for humor, as it was some form of humiliation for them, but also that it plays to stereotypes so much it’s hard to get any laughs that are not thoroughly predictable.
One reviewer noted that the long in development screenplay went through a rewrite by none other than Alexander Payne, the Oscar-winning writer of Sideways and The Descendants, and that curiously that didn’t move this unsubtle comedy into more reliable satire territory.
Add a talented supporting cast including Jessica Biel as the attorney for the titular “couple”, two straight firefighters passing for gay so that one of them can retain the firefighter’s pension for the future of his children, and you get the idea of why this film seems like such a wasted opportunity.
And yet, Chuck & Larry also made almost US$200 million dollars worldwide on a US$85 million dollars budget.
8. Grown Ups (2010)
Largely referred to as a paid vacation for Sandler and a bunch of his comedian buddies disguised as a film, Grown Ups is another in a series of recent Sandler movies in which he’s cast as the successful guy of the bunch, married to a beautiful lady (Salma Hayek) and with very trivial problems.
Meanwhile, there’s constant jokes about Kevin James being overweight and his character being unemployed; Chris Rock’s part perpetuates the stereotype that stay-at-home husbands are neutered men; David spade plays a pathetic alcoholic loner; and Rob Schneider is just his usual eccentric loser persona.
The five of them get together after the coach of their old basketball team passes away, and they decide to spend a weekend with their respective families at the old lake house where they used to party.
This poor excuse for a premise sends them in a self-discovery journey that’s more dull than it is offensive and predictable, which is at least a change of pace for Sandler comedies. As per usual, talented people like Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are misused in a terrible script by Sandler and Fred Wolf (Joe Dirt).
Grown Ups made way more money than it ever had the right to, earning almost US$300 million dollars worldwide, which granted it a sequel.
7. Mr. Deeds (2002)
The best thing about Sandler’s version of Mr. Deeds is arguably John Turturro, stealing the picture right from under the star as Spanish butler Emilio Lopez, a house servant with a foot fetish.
Turturro wears the crude humor of Sandler’s script with gusto, which makes his performance here virtually the only one in Sandler’s long career that tried hard enough to make very weak material shine through. As Longfellow Deeds, a part originated by none other than Gary Cooper in the beloved 1936 Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Sandler turns the charming ingénue played by Cooper into a simpleton idiot.
Turns out the story of the humble guy who inherits a US$40 billion empire from a distant relative and has to adapt to a different life as a cynical reporter tries to make him fall in love with her to “expose” his true self only works when you truly admire the attitude of the protagonist, and screenwriter Tim Herlihy (Big Daddy, Happy Gilmore) doesn’t seem to. Winona Ryder’s revamped Babe Bennett, the aforementioned reporter, doesn’t work well, and her chemistry with Sandler is virtually null.
Mr. Deeds did US$171 million dollars on the box office from a US$50 million dollar budget.
6. Grown Ups 2 (2013)
Rob Schneider didn’t return for the sequel of 2010’s Grown Ups, and whenever one can say that Rob Schneider made the right call, it feels like something really wrong is going on. Though it doesn’t exactly remake the premise of the first one, Grown Ups 2 manages to be even worse by portraying Lenny (Sandler), Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock) and Marcus (David Spade) back on their small hometown of Stanton, Connecticut.
Lenny is having trouble adjusting to the move, Eric disagrees with his wife (Maria Bello) about the way to raise their children, Kurt is still the unappreciated husband who remembers the couple’s anniversary while his wife (Maya Rudolph) doesn’t, and Marcus finds out he has a teenage son (Alexander Ludwig).
The wives are criminally underdeveloped, especially because we know these three actresses can do so much more than they are requested here, and the overall storylines seem designed to posit these middle-aged men as the dominant forces in their household, and how well things generally go when everyone listens to them.
The parade of weird, on-the-nose sight gags and jokes are just a barrage of stupid, especially when they kill the movie’s pathetic attempt at a plot.
Grown Ups repeated the success of the first one, earning US$250 million dollars on the box office.