The scenery ain’t bad but the laughs are tumbleweed-sparse in “The Ridiculous 6,” a Western sendup so lazy and aimless, it barely qualifies as parody. Although this (twice) studio-ditched production was dogged by controversy earlier this year, when about a dozen Native American cast members walked off the set in protest, the jokes here are less Apache than just plain patchy, too witless even to rise to the level of giving offense. Netflix has the exclusive and dubious honor of lobbing Adam Sandler’s latest quasi-comic excretion at the masses, and the movie’s crude, orifice-driven gags and equal-opportunity stereotyping should lasso a fair number of undiscriminating eyeballs in streaming play. Viewers who found “A Million Ways to Die in the West” too intellectually taxing should lap it up.
Reteaming with such longtime collaborators as director Frank Coraci and writer Tim Herlihy (with whom he penned the script), Sandler here treats the American oater the way he treats almost every genre or concept these days, as a vehicle that can easily be made to accommodate his particular brand of cine-mediocrity. Ostensibly a spoof of “The Magnificent Seven” and other classic frontier epics (as well as a conveniently timed appetizer before Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming “The Hateful Eight”), “The Ridiculous 6” poses no challenge to “Blazing Saddles” in that particular department, and indeed might as well have been titled “Western Movie,” given its resemblance to the barrel-bottom-scraping spoofs of the Friedberg/Seltzer school.
Sandler plays an expert bladesman named Tommy, or White Knife, as he’s known to the Apache tribe that has raised him from boyhood. On the eve of his marriage to a Native American bombshell (Julia Jones) who goes by the name of Smoking Fox (though at one point she’s referred to as “Poca-hot-tits”), Tommy has an unexpected run-in with the notorious outlaw Frank Stockburn (Nick Nolte), who reveals himself to be none other than his long-lost father before being led off at gunpoint by Cicero (Danny Trejo), a no-good gangster whom Frank owes $50,000. Determined to save the dad he never knew, Tommy decides to raise the money himself and pay off Cicero, even if it means robbing, cheating and accidentally decapitating others in the process.
Frank, it turns out, sowed his oats far and wide, and before long Tommy is united with five half-brothers he never knew, starting with a rascally Mexican named Ramon (a Spanish-accented Rob Schneider), whose best friend and secret weapon is a burro with chronic incontinence issues. The others are Lil Pete (Taylor Lautner), a gee-golly cantaloupe-screwing hick; Herm (Jorge Garcia), a buck-toothed, barely verbal oaf with a taste for moonshine; Danny (Luke Wilson), a disgraced ex-bodyguard responsible for the assassination of a certain U.S. president; and Chico (Terry Crews), who, being a black man in a numbskull comedy, is sufficiently well endowed to have mastered the art of hands-free piano playing.
Wandering across a desert landscape that suggests Monument Valley with a few more phallus-shaped boulders, this ragtag team of frontier misfits embark on a series of heists and burglaries that exist primarily to show off Sandler’s talent for calling in favors: Here’s Harvey Keitel as an unscrupulous saloon owner, there’s David Spade as Gen. Custer, and oh look, it’s John Turturro as baseball inventor Abner Doubleday, in perhaps the film’s least necessary and most borderline-charming sequence. Hovering around the periphery are a gang of eyepatch-wearing pandits whose ranks include Will Forte and Steve Zahn, plus Tommy’s extended Apache family, who are on hand mainly so that we can either laugh or get mad at their extremely literal-minded names.
But really, why pay Sandler’s idiot shenanigans the compliment of anger? There’s nothing here so inspired as to warrant the audience’s contempt, much less its surprise. Viewers who gladly endured “Pixels” may well revel in the sight of the star giving another of his patented non-performances, and those who saw “Big Daddy” and “That’s My Boy” will hardly be shocked to see him once again knee-deep in daddy issues. In what probably counts as multitasking for all involved, “The Ridiculous 6” manages to be not just a pitiful excuse for a comedy but also a pitiful excuse for a male weepie. And as the over-active father at the heart of it all, the gravel-voiced Nolte shows up most of his co-stars by playing his part with so much wily conviction, you’d almost swear he were acting in an actual movie.
Still, the MVP here is undoubtedly Ramon’s donkey, who gives 110% whether he’s fellating Lautner on screen (someone’s clearly on Team Jacob), or standing perfectly still while Steve Buscemi rubs ointment inside the beast’s rectum. Which, incidentally, would make a far more appropriate destination for “The Ridiculous 6” than your Netflix queue.