American male culture fluctuates like a bobbing cocktail stork between being self-satisfied with its progressively earned enlightenment and believing that stone knives and hickory clubs work just fine, thank you. Here we are in just such a Paleolithic phase, in which Man finds pride not merely in salaries or learnedness or good works, but also in beer bellies and living-room Jets shrines. Adam Sandler, who doesn’t glorify contented dim-wittedness so much as telethon for it, is the moment’s Will Rogers, a Today’s Man ideal as unchallenging as a broken-in recliner.
That Sandler can often be brilliantly funny, at least outside of his movies, is hardly unusual or of consequence to Waterboy fans, for whom Big Daddy has been brought to the table with hopeful studio hearts. But is it another profit cow? Maybe not, because someone had the bright idea of pairing
Sandler with a five-year-old (Cole and Dylan Sprouse) and running the star through a Little Miss
Marker scenario, thereby imposing a paternal dynamic where only incorrigible immaturity is expected. (You’d think they’d have Sandler relive the Jerry Lewis experience and maybe remake The Bellboy, but that is perhaps where SNL alumni fear to tread.) There are even tearful moments of orphan anxiety, with swelling score peaks you’d swear belong to the Julia Roberts movie playing next door.
As a slacking (but talented!) law-school grad with the rough idea of adopting his roommate’s illegit son in order to win back an errant girlfriend, Sandler is less goofy than spitefully self-absorbed, and most of the comedy feels like child abuse. Sandler embodies the ultimate nightmare sports dad, bellowing at a preschooler when he cries, taking him to the Blarney Stone, and letting him sleep in spilled food rather than interrupt the Rangers game.
It doesn’t last, of course: Sandler straightens up, everybody admires his tenderness, Joey Lauren Adams does career time as his obscure object, Kristy Swanson and Lesley Mann both radiate career helplessness as blond bitches with ridiculous cleavage, and the whole megillah ends up in custody court. There are laughs (for instance, Sandler grilling
innocent kindergartners on substance abuse), and also bids for a wider audience—this is, after all, the only film guaranteed to be seen by every football player in Wisconsin that prominently features an openly endorsed, tongue-kissing gay couple. If nothing else, Big Daddy is an acknowledgment that cave dwelling ain’t what it used to be, despite the Chief Jay Strongbow wrestling moves and Hooters product placement.