Monday, May 2, 2011

Billy Madison

Why do I do this to myself? Why do I keep going back to the parched dry well that is the Adam Sandler flexography for reviews? It is because sandler is the most bankable star in Hollywood. His last twelve films have grossed at least $100 million each. He has fans out threre. It is inexplicable to me, but there is obviously something people see in him. Credit where credit is due, Billy Madison is as close as I have come to appreciating Sandler’s brand of comedy.

Sandler plays the title character, a drunken, dumb slacker--surprise, surprise--why agrees to repeat elementary through high school in order to prove to his mogul father he can handle taking over the hotel chain. His nemesis is a pre-Josh Lyman Bradley Whitford. If you are wondering what Whitford is doing in a film like this, so was I. Believe it or not, there are traces of Lyman in the character. He is a sharp, intelligent guy who arrogance allows him to at times be cruel. Here, the character is exaggerated for comedic effect, but that is Lymon all over.

Madison’s task is to devote two weeks to each grade. He spends most of his time being the most immature kid amongst the rest while ogling his cute fourth grade teacher. Madison see saws from being a goof to a bully, generally abusing much smaller children. There is really no heart in the film until high school when Madison realizes what a bully he was back then and attempts to make amends to those to whom he gave a hard time. Even that sequence is little more than to set up a joke and a surprise element to the ending.

No heart is pretty much how Billy Madison goes. Its primary function is to generate laughs in any way possible. While some of the humor flirts with satire, most of it relies on absurd bits like a giant penguin hallucination, cartton violence, and the old standby of bathroom humor. Typical Sandler fare for the typical Sandler fan.

A saving grace for me is that much of Sandler’s more unpleasant man-child shtick is kept to a minimum. He does not have an anger management problem. The violence is slapstick without an ounce of seriousness. Some of the twists in the story are quite clever by Sandler standards. It is a smart, dumb movie.

But not really smart enough. It is not a classic of the genre of idiots being forced to prove themselves under absurd circumstances. Billy Madison is frivolous viewing a fan of this kind of movie should watch on a boring afternoon when nothing else is on. There are better choices out there, but I doubt someone who likes modern screwball comedies would hate it. I do not, for what it is worth, and I think most Sandler movies could be used as an advanced interrogation technique at Gitmo.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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