When it was first announced, Adam Sandler’s gender-bending twin comedy “Jack and Jill” seemed something like an advanced act of Internet trolling, and the actual film certainly lives down to expectations. Yet the pic’s general stupidity, careless direction and reliance on a single-joke premise that was never really funny to begin with are only the most obvious of its problems. The previous two pics produced this year by Sandler’s Happy Madison shingle, “Just Go With It” and “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” grossed $103 million and $2.5 million, respectively; “Jack and Jill” should fall somewhere between the two.
Sandler (who plays both of the titular twin siblings here, as well as co-scripting and producing) has made a number of genuinely funny lowbrow comedies, yet even his better ones tend to be marred by recurring issues: casual racism and classism, lax filmmaking standards, intrusive product placement and pointless celebrity cameos. “Jack and Jill” pushes these attributes to heretofore unseen levels, and seems to complete the strange souring of Sandler’s default posture from go-for-broke buffoonery to weary, curdled misanthropy.
Advertising exec Jack (Sandler) lives, as do many latter-day Sandler protags, in a palatial estate with a much younger wife (Katie Holmes, adopting the tone of a dimwitted kindergarten teacher) and a pair of adorable children (Elodie Tougne, Rohan Chand). Jack’s present troubles are twofold: His agency stands to lose a major client if he can’t persuade Al Pacino to sign on as a Dunkin’ Donuts spokesman, and his loudmouthed, clingy twin sister, Jill (also Sandler), is scheduled to fly in (on American Airlines, we’re reminded) for Thanksgiving. A lonely spinster still living in the siblings’ Bronx home, Jill has never heard of the Internet, sweats and farts profusely, and has a pet bird named Poopsie.
After ruining Thanksgiving dinner through overwhelming obnoxiousness, Jill announces her intention to stay on as a houseguest through Hanukkah, and Jack begins to fret that her continued presence could pose a threat to his upcoming New Year’s Eve cruise (on Royal Caribbean’s new Allure of the Seas vessel, we’re reminded). Jack eventually decides the best way to rid himself of his twin is to set her up with a man, though how he expects to entice her back to New York by finding her an L.A.-based boyfriend is puzzling indeed.
In the early going, the pacing is so haphazard, the gag setups so cursory, that a number of scenes play like surrealist video-art installations with no obvious connection to one another: Jill rides a jet ski in Jack’s pool with no explanation; then Jack’s son Scotch-tapes small animals to his naked torso; then we get a non-sequitur sequence of Jill getting knocked unconscious on the set of “The Price Is Right,” footage of which is then repeated five minutes later. In any case, a shot at redemption for both twins arrives when the two attend a Lakers game, where Pacino spots Jill from across the court and develops an immediate attraction.
Indeed, Pacino gets more screentime than any actor save Sandler. The notion of the celebrated thespian quoting Stella Adler in an attempt to seduce a drag-clad Sandler certainly seems funny in theory, but by the time he performs a rap number incorporating his lines from “Dog Day Afternoon” and “The Godfather: Part II,” all admiration for his gameness has twisted into queasiness.
Distressing though his role may be, Pacino at least expends a good deal of effort in performing it, which is more than can be said for Sandler. Male actors portraying female characters has been fertile ground for comedy since Aristophanes, but Sandler makes no attempt to actually play a woman; he simply dons the wig and dress, pitches his voice up an octave, and does the same old schtick.
There are sporadic laughs to be had. An uncredited Johnny Depp elicits the biggest with his choice of T-shirt in his one scene, and Nick Swardson, who toplined “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star,” attains a bit of professional redemption here as Jack’s unwisely honest personal assistant. On the other hand, famed Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez will likely be receiving a strongly worded letter from the National Council of La Raza for taking on his cringe-inducing role as Jack’s gardener.
Tech specs are uneven, but generally better than they need to be.