Added together, there are about three minutes of funny material in “Happy Gilmore,” and pretty much all of them are in the trailer, leaving a sometimes painfully unfunny 90 minutes with which to contend. Still, the combination of that slick trailer and the ready audience for what might be dubbed the idiot-comic genre should allow Universal to draw well-above-par box office scores for this golf-themed comedy.
Gauging the level of humor, “Happy” makes the last major comedy set in the staid world of golf, “Caddyshack,” look like “Masterpiece Theatre.” On the plus side, it does have more to recommend it than star/co-writer Adam Sandler’s first solo feature vehicle, “Billy Madison,” though that may be the definition of damnation with faint praise.
Sandler remains a thoroughly grating onscreen personality with zero acting range (his two moods are petulant juvenility and juvenile petulance), but at least he and co-writer Tim Herlihy make a passing effort at giving the audience someone to root for here, something almost entirely lacking in “Billy.”
Determined to make it as a professional hockey player, Sandler’s Happy discovers his hockey stroke can produce a 400-yard golf tee shot. Realizing that this newly discovered ability may provide the means to win back his grandmother’s house, which has been repossessed by the IRS, he joins the PGA tour, with a former golf pro (Carl Weathers) becoming his mentor.
Happy must win $ 270,000 to get the house back and free grandma from the clutches of a smarmy nursing home operator (an uncredited Ben Stiller). The exuberant crowds Happy brings out, meanwhile, are a major irritant to Shooter (the ubiquitous Christopher McDonald), a top tour pro who feels the clownish Happy is raining on his parade and who thus conspires to get rid of him.
The producers and director Dennis Dugan (who plays a small part in the movie, as does TV producer RobertSmigel) seem to realize that Sandler’s shtick inevitably wears thin, smartly calling on “Saturday Night Live” and “Second City TV” alumni Kevin Nealon and Joe Flaherty to try to flesh out the proceedings.
The general tone nevertheless makes it difficult to elevate the gags beyond an occasional chuckle, with plenty of arid stretches in between. Even the few inspired laughs — such as Happy finding his “happy place,” a Felliniesque montage that includes a dwarf on a tricycle, and Happy’s knock-down, drag-out fight with Bob Barker — generally get pounded into the greens, which also happens to be the protagonist’s response (now here’s a good message to send the kids) to virtually anyone or anything that bothers him.
“Happy’s” most amusing recurring gag comes courtesy of the technical crew, with a golf ball streaking a seemingly impossible distance over a course. Unfortunately, as the ball shoots out of the picture, anyone old enough to drive may be half-tempted to climb on board for the ride.