Big Daddy (1999)

There's no denying that comedian Adam Sandler has a knack for putting together gross-out comedy and soft soap in proportions that make for box office success, always taking care to set the laddish piss and puke gags next to more chick-friendly romantic business. Here, he's a thirty-year-old slacker, content to mooch around rather than practice law, who has just been dumped for a much older man by a girlfriend (Kelly Lynch) who wants him to show some maturity. When the lost son of a just-left-for-China roommate shows up on the doorstep, Sandler takes in the kid (twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) and tries to show he can be a decent father, even though he is inclined to be as irresponsible as the brat, which not only makes for the usual cute or gruesome kiddie body function and heartwarming bonding bits but impresses Joey Lauren Adams enough to rope her in as leading lady. It ends up in court for some crowd-pleasing but astonishingly unlikely plot-twists.

It wants to be liked just a bit too much, but as undemanding fluff goes it has some laughs and not too many tears. Sandler shows an admirable loyalty to his buddies/entourage, finding roles for good bit-players like Buscemi (as a homeless man who remembers 'the so-called disco era' as 'the mushroom era') and Josh Mostel as a rare social services guy in the movies to be a sympathetic, serious but not solemn do-gooder rather than a cruel bureaucrat, not to mention stooge Rob Schneider as a comedy foreign delivery man (not a great joke) and the amusing college buddies who have gone gay ('they watch a different kind of porn now') but are otherwise just the same likable wasters they always were. It caps a potentially horrid courtroom homily on fatherhood, that brings round Sandler's own stuffy Dad (Joe Bologna), with a neat joke about a court full of crying men phoning their own fathers.

The women (down to Leslie Mann) have to put up with a lot of jokes about Hooters and stand for a certain kind of stability that seems as maternal as it is romantic partner, but Adams is given some sort of time to make her case. Steve Buscemi's courtroom statement: 'If OJ can get away with murder, then why can't Sonny have this kid?'
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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