Saturday, March 05, 2011

'Just Go With It' is a no go

Adam Sandler has always been an acquired taste. His moronic brand of humor has a take it or leave quality to it dating back to his first hit, “Billy Madison,” all the way up to his current one, “Just Go With It.”

Sandler has a troupe of actor and director friends that he regularly works with. This is director Dennis Dugan's sixth time working with Sandler. While the Sandler factory has made entertaining movies, it also creates a safety bubble that often prevents the actor from truly growing. It is only when he steps outside of that bubble, as with Judd Apatow's “Funny People” or Paul Thomas Anderson's “Punch Drunk Love,” that you begin to see that Sandler has untapped dimensions.

“Just Go With It,” a remake of the 1969 Walter Matthau movie “Cactus Flower,” falls well within in the bubble, which is a shame because there are hints that this could've been something more.

Sandler stars as a plastic surgeon who wears a fake wedding ring to woo younger women to bed with sob stories about his terrible marriage. He falls hard for a girl (model Brooklyn Decker) the one day he is not wearing the ring. When she finds it he explains he is getting a divorce. The lie balloons when Sandler ropes his assistant (Aniston) to play the part of his soon-to-be ex. Her kids also get pulled in the web of deceit. Guess who Sandler discovers he really loves?

The predictable formula isn't the problem. It is the execution. The film clocks in at under two hours, but drags so badly that it feels well over two hours. The final half of the film sends Sandler, Decker, Aniston, the kids and Nick Swardson, as Sandler's cousin who poses as Aniston's new German lover, to Hawaii.

Swardon is terribly unfunny with a cartoonishly over-the-top German accent. His scenes bring any of the film's energy to a halt. The character is superfluous and the film would've been greatly enhanced if he'd just been left on the cutting room floor.

It isn't that the film doesn't have laughs, it does, but most of the time the film goes for the easy laugh rather than the better laugh. Even Nicole Kidman is wasted as Aniston's former rival, who just happens to also be in Hawaii. Kidman does have some good nasty moments, but the film doesn't push far enough and stays firmly in low-brow territory.

Unfortunately, even in his 40s, Sandler can't repress his urges for juvenile jokes. So, yes, that means there is not one, but two hit-to-the-crotch jokes. Admittedly, one is funny, although it is the punchline that gets the laugh not the actual blow to Sandler's manhood.

The biggest problem is that Sandler's character is inconsistent. In one moment he's a sweet, nice guy, the next moment he's a jerk. Sometimes he seems to genuinely like Aniston's kids, other times he seems to loath them. When late in the film he proclaims his love for them it doesn't feel entirely earned.

Sandler is good in the film when he dials back his worst impulses. Even dating back to his earliest films — behind the silly voices and angry outbursts — there was an underlining sweetness. Paired with Drew Barrymore in 1998's “The Wedding Singer,” Sander proved that he could be a charming, albeit goofy, romantic lead. He shows that quality again here, but it is under utilized.

Aniston hasn't been this good on screen in a long time. Even in scenes that aren't working, she exudes an ease and confidence. She's bright, charming and funny throughout. There's also genuine chemistry between Aniston and Sandler when the film allows them to simply play off each other. That doesn't happen often enough.

“Just Go With It” is a wasted opportunity.

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