Adam Sandler's raunchiest star vehicle in years is a work of relentless vulgarity and staggering moral idiocy. All in all, it could have been worse.
Starting with the premise that statutory rape can be occasion for laughter, even applause, “That’s My Boy” is a shameless celebration of degenerate behavior, a work of relentless vulgarity and staggering moral idiocy. All in all, it could have been worse. Puerile, crotch-fixated and very occasionally, inanely funny, Adam Sandler’s raunchiest star vehicle in years has a small saving grace in Andy Samberg’s performance as a teacher-student love-child — an oasis of sympathy surrounded by Sandler’s usual walking punchlines (minorities, obese people, women). Some outraged reactions can be expected; so can solid B.O.
The fun begins with what amounts to a queasily comic treatment of a real-life tragicomedy, specifically that 1996 headline-grabber in which schoolteacher Mary Kay Letourneau became pregnant (twice) by her 13-year-old student Vili Fualaau. In David Caspe’s script, the poor kid — or, as the pic sees it, the lucky dog — is teenager Donny Berger (Justin Weaver), who receives a month of detention from his very hot teacher (Eva Amurri Martino), and not just because she wants her chalkboards cleaned.
When the affair is discovered, teacher goes to prison and Donny becomes an overnight celebrity, hailed as the kid who dared to live out every boy’s dream. (A sign in the school auditorium: “Some have greatness thrust upon them.”) The pic takes pains to make Donny the instigator of this grossly inappropriate relationship, perhaps spurring some of the more contemplative members of the audience to consider the gender bias that would treat a teenage girl in similar circumstances as an unambiguous victim.
Yet “That’s My Boy” is ultimately too stunted in its view of women to object to such a double standard. The females who flock through this picture — a horny grandma (Peggy Stewart), a plus-size stripper (Luenell) and, worst of all, a spoiled rich bitch (Leighton Meester) — are hardly worth remarking upon, let alone spending time with. Ditto the Asian housekeepers and African minister who turn up on occasion, preceded by a wink that lets viewers know how clued-in the pic is to its own racism.
Xenophobic, misogynist humor in a Happy Madison production is of course no more surprising than the pic’s multiple gags involving erections, ejaculation, incontinence, public urination and vomiting. Nor is it especially shocking that Sandler plays another deplorable man-child slob with his signature high-pitched vocal inflections, as though channeling a brain-damaged sock puppet.
That would be Donny, who has grown up to be (surprise!) a deadbeat loser, the lead in a “Big Daddy” sequel nobody requested. His son, whom he christened Han Solo and neglected to the point of abuse, is now a high-flying financial whiz who has changed his name to Todd (Samberg), and wants nothing to do with his dad. But just as Todd is about to get married, Donny drops in and tries to rekindle their relationship, kicking off a predictably painful round of humiliations for his offspring in front of his future wife and in-laws.
Samberg’s sweet embodiment of this poor schlub is one of the few things here that the script’s general air of hyper-sexed misanthropy can’t spoil, even when he and his dad bond over a crazy “Hangover”-style bender. The thesp is the latest “Saturday Night Live” grad to join the Happy Madison stable (other alums/enablers in the cast include Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch and Colin Quinn), and he even manages to bring out an element of likability in Sandler’s Donny.
This is no small feat, and crucial to its execution is the pic’s strategy of making the supporting characters so clueless/horny/reprehensible that Donny seems almost pleasant by comparison. Along similarly relativist lines, we also get a gratuitously awful sex scene, the apparent intention of which is to make pedophilia seem like the less revolting taboo. If there’s a (faint) upside to “That’s My Boy,” it’s that the crassness of the endeavor at least finds Sandler in his R-rated element after superficially less objectionable vehicles like “Grown Ups” and “Jack and Jill”; his fans should be well pleased.
Brief turns by Susan Sarandon and James Caan class up the proceedings, and as one of Donny’s washed-up celeb friends, Vanilla Ice delivers an amusing if overextended cameo, bearing out the pic’s weird affection for select ’80s/’90s pop-culture relics. Tech credits are wobbly, though at least two gags make sharp, surprising use of offscreen space.
That's My Boy
Todd - Andy Samberg
Jamie - Leighton Meester
As Himself - Vanilla Ice
Steve Spirou - Tony Orlando
Phil - Will Forte
Chad - Milo Ventimiglia