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That’s My Boy (2012)

by Steve Habrat

It hasn’t even been a year since comedian Adam Sandler unleashed the rotten Jack and Jill on audiences everywhere and now he’s back with That’s My Boy, an abrasive R-rated nightmare that doesn’t posses one ounce of shame. Reckless, irresponsible, and just plain wrong, That’s My Boy is another miss in a seemingly endless string of duds from the funnyman who has only come up with a small handful of decent comedies throughout his inexplicably long career. This time, Sandler seems hell-bent on destroying the career of Andy Samberg, fellow SNL alum who seems to grow more and more ashamed of himself with each passing frame of That’s My Boy. Filling the film with the usual Happy Madison suspects, Sandler crashes in with another slurring goofball character with a speech impediment, hooting and hollering over bodily fluids, warped back tattoos, and Vanilla Ice, all while telling a story that is painfully predictable. And then Sandler springs incest on us and things go from gross to downright nauseating.

That’s My Boy begins in 1984, with seventh grader Donny Berger hooking up with one of the hottest teachers in his grade school, Mary McGarricle (Played by Eva Amurri Martino). The student/teacher affair is eventually discovered and Mary ends up pregnant and facing thirty years in prison for the affair. The young Donny is stuck with raising the baby but he also becomes an overnight celebrity because of the affair. He ends up with tons of money and neglects his child who disappears when he turns eighteen. The film then skips to present day, with the adult Donny (Played by Adam Sandler) now a broke and washed up drunk who passes time in a rundown strip club trying to relive his glory days. Donny soon discovers that he owes $43,000 to the IRS and if he doesn’t pay up quick, he is looking at three years of jail time. Desperate to stay out of jail, Donny attempts to reconnect with his son, Todd (Played by Andy Samberg), on the eve of his wedding. Donny begins trying to lure Todd into unknowingly making an appearance on a reality television special that promises Donny a check of $50,000. As Donny and Todd reconnect, Donny begins to realize what a screw-up he was as a parent.

If you can believe it, That’s My Boy runs almost two whole hours and in those two hours, the film makes one joke about bodily fluids after another. There is a seamen joke here, a urine joke there, and feces thrown in for the hell of it. It also gets stuck on the joke that Donny just can’t leave the 80s behind, driving around still fumbling with cassette tapes in a beater car with a Rush decal stamped on the hood. What screenwriter David Caspe seems to not understand is that many of these raunchy R-rated comedies are successful and resonate with so many because they have an equal amount of heart behind all the crass behavior. This heart balances out all the penis and vagina jokes that these comedies like to harp on. That’s My Boy doesn’t have that balance, which causes the film to be extremely off-putting and mean spirited. This almost seems like an excuse for Sandler to dance around and humiliate Samberg, all while making half-hearted remarks about how good of a person he truly is.

When Sandler isn’t making Samberg blush, he is busy playing Donny like a mash-up of Billy Madison, Nicky from Little Nicky, and Bobby Boucher from The Waterboy. There is nothing that is wholly original or new about his latest stammering man-child, further proving that Sandler has absolutely no range as an actor. Samberg is handed the twisted role of a man nursing childhood wounds, still haunted by humiliation he suffered at the hands of his loudmouth father. He fears taking his shirt off in public due to an embarrassing tattoo of New Kids on the Block that covers his entire back. He also suffers from diabetes, can’t ride a bicycle, and lives in fear that he may have to throw or catch a baseball. He even had to change his name from Han Solo Berger to Todd Peterson and lie to his fiancé Jamie’s (Played by Leighton Meester) parents, telling them that his parents are long dead. Near the beginning, Samberg tries hard but as the film drags on, he seems to throw in the towel, as he realizes he is powerless to prevent this train wreck.

That’s My Boy is loaded with familiar Happy Madison faces, all who are absolutely talentless and not funny in the slightest. I’m still trying to figure out why Susan Sarandon and James Caan decided to show up to this horror show. The studio must have promised them a big paycheck because there is honestly no other reason why they should be here. Meester is given very little to do outside of act like a prissy pain in the ass and boss the twitchy Samberg around. Nick Swardson gets to come hang out and play a cross-eyed redneck creep who likes to hang around the strip club that Sandler’s character frequents. Peter Dante pops up briefly as a stoner who is eerily similar to the one that he played in the mediocre Grandma’s Boy. Will Forte gets to play things ultra geeky as Todd’s best man Phil, who throws what could be the lamest bachelor party on the planet. Milo Ventimiglia gets one of the better roles as Jamie’s Marine brother Chad who is overly intense and enjoys tormenting Todd every chance he gets. Also on the guest list is Vanilla Ice, who shows up as an even more washed-up version of himself, but at least he has the good sense to wink at the audience

Overall, no matter what I say, people are still going to flock to That’s My Boy and rave about how hilarious it is. Personally, I didn’t find it the slightest bit funny and found it downright sordid. Many may be quick to say I’m being uptight but as someone who enjoys a raunchy comedy as much as the next guy, I have to say I found this one empty, stupid, and redundant. Sandler and his crew hurl one shock at us after another and frankly, some of them seem desperate and recycled (old people talking dirty, overweight strippers bearing more than we need to see, full frontal male nudity). Near the end, Sandler puts a rotten cherry on top of this unholy shit sundae by diving headfirst into incest, making things even more appalling than they already are. Rather than pushing the raunchy R-rated comedy forward a few feet and making something worthwhile, That’s My Boy takes the subgenre back several feet and then sends it right down the toilet. I think it’s time that Sandler stepped away from the comedy genre before he does anymore damage.

Grade: F

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

by Steve Habrat

They may not be for everyone, but I have to say that I just love the weed-fueled duo that is Harold and Kumar. I have found their previous adventures to be uproariously funny, strangely heartwarming in their quest for those tiny steamed burgers from White Castle and their relentless quest to clear their names after being accused of being terrorists. Yet their adventures never seemed meaningless, always riffing on stereotypes of all races and confronting every taboo under the sun. Who can forget the preppy girls bathroom game “Battleshits” from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle? Or how about their trek through the ghetto, getting a flat tire, and then fleeing in terror from a group of African Americans who just aim to help in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay? For my money, I prefer the darker second installment to the first, but I still like them both. Now Harold and Kumar are taking on something much bigger than the munchies for greasy burgers and the FBI. They tackle 3D! Oh, and Christmas too. It turns out that their Christmas hijinks are not nearly as funny as you would expect. Sure, they lob every body fluid and giant clay penises out at the audience like it will be going out of style. Sure, it’s raunchier than the last two films combined. So where does A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas go wrong? Well, it just seems like it’s trying too hard to shock us without ever really accomplishing it. I’m sorry but Santa Claus receiving a shotgun blast to the head, tumbling out of the air and then snapping back to reality while exclaiming “WHAT THE FUCK?!” isn’t that funny. It’s also the furthest thing from sophisticated.

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas has a straight forward set up. It’s been a few years since Harold and Kumar have spoken or seen each other. Harold (Played once again by John Cho) has a cushy office job, has married Maria, the Latino love of his life (Played by Paula Garcés), and lives in modest but upper scale home in a New York City suburb. Kumar (Played once again by Kal Penn) crashes in a dump of an apartment, surrounded in the haze of marijuana smoke. He has just recently broken up with his girlfriend Vanessa (Played by Danneel Ackles), a girl he still is head over heels for. Harold is hosting Maria’s parents for Christmas, a scruffy crew lead by the Christmas fanatic Mr. Perez (Played by the always welcome Danny Trejo). Mr. Perez brings with him a prized Christmas tree that he has been growing for years. After a mysterious package brings Harold and Kumar back together again, they accidentally burn down Mr. Perez’s prized tree, sending them on mad dash through New York City to find a new tree. Their journey leads them to a party thrown by a Russian gangsters virgin daughter, getting a baby stoned on weed, cocaine, and ecstasy, shooting Santa Clause with a shotgun, plotting to rob a church of their Christmas tree, drinking laced eggnog, eating at White Castle again, and crossing paths with the deranged party boy Neil Patrick Harris.

Truth be told, none of the situations that Harold and Kumar find themselves in are all that humorous in this installment. In jokes are made to the other installments and tweaks are made to the story to fit with present day issues. An Occupy Wall Street nod is thrown in, a gag that involves an egging, urinating on the windshield of a car, and human shit used as a projectile. Jabs are made about Asian’s taking pictures by Mr. Perez and so on and so forth. The problem is that the writing doesn’t hit you the way it has in the previous installments, coming across as weak and musty. Nodding to the previous two films is okay, but sometimes it feels like it is stretching it a bit. Worst yet, it’s predictable, a flaw that the first two films seemed to avoid with ease. Here, what is unpredictable lacks a satisfying pay off. This is especially true with the Russian gangster gag, a character that only exists to be an obstacle for the boys to overcome. He is never a genuine nuisance like Rob Corddry’s short fused FBI agent in Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

What also trips up this installment up is the lack of any satire. The previous installments hounded us with satire, bringing to light our hasty judgments of different races and economical standings of some individuals (Who can forget Freakshow?). It quietly slapped us on the wrists while luring out giant belly laughs in the process. It made us stand back and admit to ourselves that we are really shallow and closed off as human beings. Guantanamo Bay was much heavier with these ideas and it dared to get political, I will give it that, but this one lacks it all together. It opts for tributes to popular Christmas films and playing up the 3D add on. There are some nice touches with the rediscovery of friendship and sticking together, typical buddy movie messages that I could find in any given Happy Madison production. The film also tries to encapsulate the spirit of the season, going out of your way to bring happiness, joy, and love, especially to the nagging extended family.

The real treat in A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas is the fact that the entire cast returns to reprise their beloved roles. You can really tell that Cho and Penn enjoy playing the ethnic heroes. Hell, Penn left his White House job to once again play the gutteral Indian stoner. The film seems like the cast had a ball together and the addition of tattooed tough guy Danny Trejo was a pleasant touch. He does ramble off a few zingers throughout the 90-minute run time. Praise should also go to Neil Patrick Harris who narrowly saves the film from stinkville, once again embracing the inappropriate drug and alcohol junkie. The scene where he goes to Heaven is a jewel, especially his interaction with Jesus, who he calls “some hippie”.

I wish moments of A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas would have snowballed into something bigger and much more outrageous. It would have been appropriate for this movie with its winter setting. Instead it is comfortable with just grabbing a few chuckles and dashing off. It’s severely anticlimactic, lacking any big showdown or conflict, which was majorly disappointing. The filmmakers seemed to run out of situations that they could place our protagonists in. It doesn’t miss the opportunity in setting up another installment though and I’ll admit that it does have my interest. I’d gladly see another one of these films and I do hope they punch things up for another round. Wait a couple years and see what the social climate looks like. That seems to be the technique they are running with anyway. Sadly, the high has worn off of this franchise and this installment is crashing hard. Someone get the bong and let it toke up!

Grade: C+