Respectable and lovable loserBy Teresa Huang
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Written by Steve Franks, Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Starring Adam Sandler, Cole and Dylan Sprouse, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart
After his last film, The Waterboy, grossed over $160 million dollars, what could Adam Sandler possibly be aiming for with his latest effort, Big Daddy? Most likely he’s hoping to gain approval as a legitimate actor and the admiration of female movie viewers. Ask any guy to name his favorite movies and an Adam Sandler title is sure to be on the short list. Meanwhile, the allure of films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore continues to evade most women. Big Daddy, on the other hand, appeals directly to women who hope to reform their own deadbeat boyfriends into respectable fathers.
Adam Sandler plays Sonny Koufax, a toll-booth collector with a law degree who embodies the word loser. His girlfriend, played by Kristy Swanson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), leaves him for an older man because Sonny is clearly incapable of moving on to the next stage of his life. To prove her wrong, Sonny adopts five-year old Julian (played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse). When that doesn’t win her back, Sonny finds himself stuck with an impressionable kid who needs a father figure. Sonny guiltlessly jumps into the role, declaring he will be a dad unlike any other, especially his own. As the movie progresses, Sonny is transformed from a complete loser to a more respectable and lovable loser with a cute son, which somehow attracts smart and sexy Layla, played by Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy).
The film starts out strong with great humor and some genuine acting from Adam Sandler. He’s casual and relaxed, showing no signs of his usual over-the-top antics. The premise is also surprisingly easy to swallow as we watch Sonny embark on a pitiful attempt at parenthood. For a while, it looks like Big Daddy may be one of Adam Sandler’s best films. Unfortunately, sugar-coated moments take over as the story tumbles helplessly into predictability and sappiness. Sonny’s humanization as a result of caring for a child is inevitable, as is his newfound ability to garner respect from his peers.
Though the film offers a small glimpse into theories of parenting, Big Daddy is really about Adam Sandler playing a character that women everywhere see in their fantasies. We all know grown-up kids like Sonny Koufax, and we’d love to think that they can be changed completely into more respectable figures. We see that, through caring for Julian, Sonny becomes capable of more responsibility than he shows us in the beginning. Similarly, Big Daddy is Adam Sandler’s chance to show the world that he’s capable of deeper acting than is displayed in his more slapstick movies. To that end, Big Daddy is just as much of a device to Adam Sandler’s movie career as Julian is to Sonny’s life.
The film is also curiously plagued with superfluous characters and cameos that are either unnecessary or unexplored. Film veteran Joseph Bologna turns out a rather uninspired performance as Sonny’s father while Rob Schneider falls flat performing his own Saturday Night Live sketch within the film. A homeless man played by Steve Buscemi jumps into the story from nowhere and seemingly for no reason other than because he’s played by Steve Buscemi. Perhaps the biggest offense is the misuse of Layla’s sister Corinne, played by Leslie Mann (George of the Jungle). Though she steals every scene with her sharp wit and acidic stare, her character exists only to be the butt of jokes about Hooters, a shtick which tires quickly.
Big Daddy works at first, but eventually spills over the top with sappiness. Though there are some moments of spontaneity, the film is packed with plenty of contrived humor that detracts from the story. By the end of the movie, Sonny Koufax is definitely a new man. Whether or not Big Daddy will make Adam Sandler a new actor remains to be seen.