After decent gains made with “The Wedding Singer,” an amiable crossover vehicle, Adam Sandler scrambles back to his “SNL” Cajun Boy persona for “The Waterboy.” The formulaic mix of mirth and mayhem is aimed way down the MTV food chain, members of which will lap it up for solid opening returns and ancillary action. But don’t expect the word-of-mouth build of “There’s Something About Mary”: This yahoos-on-the-bayou farce is neither inventive nor outrageous enough.
The big laughs come from a ragtag football team that’s so poor its players share a single protective cup, so demoralized that the cheerleaders and mascot get tanked every game. As for Sandler, he remains an acquired (lack of) taste. His stammering simp and recycled Jerry Lewis shtick would test the patience of even the French. In spots, the comic steps out of character, his eyes darting sideways to see if anyone is laughing. Needless to say, lack of confidence in material this broad doesn’t add anything to his delivery.
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Sandler, again teamed with “Wedding Singer” director Frank Coraci and writer Tim Herlihy, plays Bobby Boucher, your proverbial water/whipping boy for Louisiana U.’s football team. Though he approaches his job like a city-sewage expert, always measuring the pH factor, Bobby is used as tackling dummy by the coach (Jerry Reed) and players.
Fired for firing back, Bobby returns to the arms of Mama Boucher (Kathy Bates) and then signs on with the underdog Mud Dogs, led by a hallucinating coach (Henry Winkler). Bobby’s temper tantrums make him a natural as defensive tackle. He transfers his pent-up anger to the opposing team and, following the formula, overcomes 11th-hour adversity to lead his team to victory in the Big Game.
Besides Bates, who gets into the spirit of things and mugs throughout (but lapses in and out of Cajun patois), pic has cameos by Rob Schneider, NFL personalities (including former New York Giant Lawrence Taylor) and — lending cross-promotional value for Disney — a number of ABC Sports announcers.
Fairuza Balk is sexy and funny as Bobby’s bad-girl girlfriend, and Winkler underplays nicely as the sometimes addled, sometimes cogent coach who sports a tattoo of Roy Orbison on his tush.
Larry Gilliard Jr. plays the Mud Dogs’ nice-guy place-kicker, vet Blake Clark has a running routine as an unintelligible Cajun coach, and Clint Howard is the fan in the stands inspired by Bobby’s gridiron glory.
Tech credits are what you’d expect of a low-grade genre entry. Those that are a notch above include f/x supervisor David Fogg’s morphing game faces (when Bobby projects his anger), and production designer Perry Andelin Blake’s swamp cabin, decorated in road-kill provincial. Vintage hits by Charlie Daniels, Creedence Clearwater Revival and others further pic’s tone and should ensure consolation soundtrack biz for Hollywood Records.