One of the most trumped up events of our time was Y2K, we literally thought that banks would fail and that pandemonium would ensue. No one could have predicted that the banks would be fine and that it would be Adam Sandler who ended up messed up by the millennium. This post is going to be a review of the pre-Y2K Sandler (genius) and the post-Y2K Sandler (baffling?). I will introduce a theory as to what happened to one of my heroes.

During high school, Adam Sandler was at the top of my list of comedians. I grew up with him on SNL. He had reached a point in the late ’90’s where he was my favorite movie star. Not only that, but I also owned, “There all gonna laugh at you,” and “What the hell happened to me.” I played them constantly, and laughed uncontrollably.

For me Sandler’s golden years were 1990 – 1999. During that period he released the following pieces of work:

  • They’re all gonna laugh at you (1993) (CD)
  • Billy Madison (1995)
  • Happy Gilmore (1996) – one of the funniest movies ever made.
  • What the hell happened to me (CD) (1996)
  • The Wedding Singer (1998)
  • The Waterboy (1998)

He also made a couple of less than awesome things during this period of time “Big Daddy,” and the CD “What’s your name.” I would say these works marked the beginning of the change in Sandler.

Now when you look at my list above there are a couple of common themes:

  • Sandler worked with the same kind of actors, not huge stars but people like Mark Beltzman, Josh Mostel (son of Zero Mostel),Robert Smigel. These were very funny people who weren’t well known.
  • Occasionally he would sprinkle bigger stars such as Carl Weathers, or Christopher McDonald (RIP) – and they would just add to something funny.
  • When he had huge stars with him, they played complimentary roles (Drew Barrymore, Kathy Bates, Henry Winkler) – again they simply enhanced what he was doing.
  • The scripts for the work above were pretty much about being sophomoric, and pushing the envelope. He wasn’t trying to score any “high-brow” points, he was just being outlandish – and we loved it, no one did it better.

In the year 2000 he started making stuff that I didn’t like and it was confusing. Here are a list of things that I saw, and didn’t like:

  • Mr. Deeds (2002)
  • Punch Drunk Love (2002)
  • Anger Management (2003)
  • Spanglish (2004)
  • I now pronounce you Chuck and Larry (2007)

Now, “50 First Dates” (2004) was pretty funny and I thought it was closer to the Adam Sandler of old; but it wouldn’t crack the list of “Golden Years” work that I made above.  People throw “Punch Drunk Love” at me as an example that he still had it after 2000.  I will agree it was a good movie, but I didn’t love it the same way I loved “Billy Madison.”  So what the hell happened to him? My theory is the “Rocky” theory of Sandler’s career. In Rocky 1 and Rocky 2, Balboa was hungry – he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain so he fought like it was the last time he was ever going to step into the ring. In Rocky 3 he had the title and he had defended it (numerous times) and so he was simply not hungry anymore and along comes Clubber Lang and we know what happened there. So I think Sandler lost the “Eye of the Tiger” or as I put it, the “Eye of the Penguin.”

I think the best evidence is in his pay check. Like Balboa, once Sandler got “on top” he started making “real money.” Below is a breakdown of Sandler’s Pay scale on the movies he has made (note on several some of these movies he has a producer credit) :

  • Average Salary on Films prior to 2000: $4.425MM
  • Average Salary on Films after to 2000: $15.812MM

Another thing that happened is he started changing his collaborators. He kept Rob Schneider on board, but he started introducing Kevin James, and what I will call the “Big Daddy” crew. These guys are funny, but they don’t measure up to the guys that co-collaborated with him pre-2000.

And the last thing I saw was the scripts. He started making more “sappy” love stories, and “high-brow” type of movies. To be honest, what makes Sandler great is not the “rom-com” type of stuff (see “Chuck and Larry”) its the stuff that pushed the envelope. Let me give a few examples of this kind of humor:

  • Billy Madison getting so drunk that he begins hallucinating a penguin and speaks gibberish at the dinner table.
  • Ben Stiller’s character in “Happy Gilmore” donning a Freddy Mercury handlebar stash and running a sweat shop at a retirement home
  • Bobby Boucher in “The Waterboy” calling into a live wrestling show and getting laughed at by his favorite wrestler “Captain Insano.”

These types of scenes just disappeared when Sandler changed his acting troupe and started making big bucks. His latest movie, “Grown Ups 2” is a movie that I won’t even see. It has gotten that bad. Commercially I am sure his movies do well, and hey I am all for it – I root for the guy. But I miss the Adam Sandler before the year 2000, he had a run there where I just couldn’t miss anything he did – I laughed more, and laughed harder at what he did than anyone else. I salute you Adam Sandler for your work during your “Golden Years” and congratulate you on all your success…but I can’t watch the stuff you are making now.

What do you think? Do people feel like I am missing something? Alternate theories? Anyone disagree that 2000 was the turning point?

2 Responses to Oh where have you gone Adam Sandler?

  1. Lutz says:

    Overall, I’ve seen all of Adam Sandler’s movies. Some multiple times. But I’m not a huge fan and would probably take Tommy Boy over any Adam Sandler film.

    I do think its admirable for folks to try and stretch beyond comfort zones, so give him a lot of credit for Punch Drunk Love and even Funny People.

    I wonder what are the best examples of comedians turned serious actor. Eric Bana for example. I mean comedian to Chopper??? What about Steve Martin? Robin Williams? Albert Brooks? Don’t forget about Chris Rock in New Jack City!

    • John says:

      Wow. I had no idea Bana was a comedian, that raises a provocative list. Does Jim Carrey get a place (Truman Show, Man in the Moon?)

      I hear you on Punch Drunk Love, and a lot of people raise that. I will grant that was solid, but it was the exception during that time period.

      I am flabbergasted that Tommy Boy overtakes anything in Sandler’s portfolio…I loved Tommy Boy, but I can’t see how it was better than Happy Gilmore, I could give it a tie with Billy Madison.

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