Had Adam Sandler not made such an impressive artistic leap so recently with The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy wouldn’t seem quite so dehydrated. Lord (and Lorne Michaels) knows, canny Sandler has made an inexplicably bright career out of playing a sweet, crude dum-dum — an anarchic king dork, with the jaw-jutting, clamp-lipped Stan Laurel smile to match. And millions of college-dorm residents (along with their younger brothers) would be happy if he stayed just as infantile as he was in Billy Madison, forever. The Wedding Singer retained the anti-intellectual, anti-pretentious friendliness that’s the comedian’s best asset, dropped the worst of his braying theatrical idiocy, and still reassured fans that it was indeed their lovably goofy Saturday Night Live grad in the lead, loyal to the teachings of Peter Pan. But the movie also encouraged followers to consider growing up, just a little: If Sandler’s character could hack marriage plans, maybe they could, oh, make their beds once in a while?
Gone. All those artistic advances are punted to hell in The Waterboy, even though it was made by the Wedding Singer team, including director Frank Coraci and writer Tim Herlihy. I won’t say that this is the artist at his laziest, because in fact he’s renowned for being an entertainment Iron Man. But this is certainly Sandler at his cheapest and least focused. Also — his unfunniest.
The big joke is that Bobby Boucher (Sandler) is an uneducated, emasculated, socially retarded Cajun Boy whose job serving water to college football players has made him the butt of mean jokes for years. His outlandish, eccentric, hyper-protective mother (Kathy Bates, God bless her, stashing her Oscar on a shelf where it won’t get broken) loves him, but at the rate she’s going, he’ll end up like Norman Bates. A tough, sexy local girl (Fairuza Balk, dimming her high-beam eyes) loves him too, but Mama has taught her boy that girls are the devil. It’s only after Bobby gets a job with the worst team around, coached by a broken-down father figure (Henry Winkler, ouch), that his true, Freud-approved talent gets discovered: When he acts on the anger that can overtake a 31-year-old man when his mama is a castrating crazy and almost everyone else humiliates him, he proves to be an unstoppable tackler, with the power to turn the team’s fortunes around. And then the other kids like him! Hooray for self-expression!
Sandler, Coraci & Co. throw in a lot of low and lower comedy details, not that any of them stick: Mama shares her swamp-side shack with a mule; the coach has a tattoo of Roy Orbison on his bum; as a local fan, SNL colleague Rob Schneider screeches ”You can do eeet!” in an unplaceable accent, many times. After the third quarter, The Waterboy becomes yet another lame sports farce in which the underdog prevails against great odds, the bullies are punished, and the hero gets to kiss the girl — and his mama. Anyone who thinks I’m giving away the punchline needs to get out of the house more. D-