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updated: 6/14/2012 12:12 PM

Sandler's 'Boy' as bad as you can get

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  • Donny Berger (Adam Sandler), center, and his son Han Solo Berger (Andy Samberg) cheer on a televised marathon in the comedy "That's My Boy."

      Donny Berger (Adam Sandler), center, and his son Han Solo Berger (Andy Samberg) cheer on a televised marathon in the comedy "That's My Boy."

  • Video: "That's My Boy" trailer

 
 

Outside of Tyler Perry and maybe Michael Bay, few filmmakers constantly churn out critically skewered movies that make fortunes at the box office as Adam Sandler does.

Take the Monday night screening of Sandler's comedy "That's My Boy" at Chicago's Icon Theater. Laughs, giggles and gasps frequently erupted from the audience. All except for the two front rows on the upper deck.

Yep. The Critics.

They mostly gasped in between sporadic guffaws. And there you have it. The critical/popular divide.

As much as I wished I possessed a curare-dipped needle to end my suffering while watching "That's My Boy," I did understand its raw appeal.

Sandler's comedies capitalize on distilling the essence of an adolescent male mindset.

Take Donny Berger, Sandler's character in "That's My Boy." He talks with another artificially goofy voice ("I'm just saying" comes out "Ah'm jush shaying").

He solves conflicts by striking people, preferably with an omnipresent beer bottle.

He uses recreational drugs, throws things, insults people and constantly abuses himself to photos of a woman in an old-fashioned bathing suit.

He openly treats women as sex objects, and they love him for it. He lies to people to get what he wants. And like an enabled fit-throwing child, he usually gets what he wants.

"That's My Boy" employs the familiar trappings of a juvenile comedy: fascinations with passing gas, torturing testicles, urinating in public, bad tattoos, throwing up and uttering the F-bomb (even a judge does it on the bench).

The movie takes delight in ridiculing overweight strippers, sexually active senior citizens, people with crossed-eyes and clergymen who give into their pugilistic urges.

Perhaps the charitable thing to say is that Sandler apparently knows his audience in "That's My Boy," stuffed with a plethora of moldy clichés by screenwriter David Caspe, presumably after watching a "Jerry Springer Show" marathon.

Junior high student Donny Berger (Justin Weaver) has an affair with his alluring schoolteacher, Miss McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). She bears him a baby boy, whom Donny names Han Solo Berger because it's the coolest name in the universe.

After surviving a lifetime of tabloid scrutiny, the adult Donny (Sandler) loses a temporary fortune. Now, he owes $43,000 in taxes to the U.S. by Tuesday or it's slammer time.

Donny concocts a plan to grab $50,000 by having TV reality producer Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick) shoot a reunion of Donny, Miss McGarricle and their son Han Solo at the prison where she's been sentenced for 30 years.

There's a hitch.

Han Solo (Andy Samberg) has changed his name to Todd and wants no contact with Donny, even as he prepares to wed the fetching socialite Jamie (Leighton Meester), who knows nothing about Todd's background, except that she thinks his father has died.

Donny hopes he can pull off the reunion -- his stay-out-of-jail card -- by telling Todd his mother is dying and she wants to see him right away. Todd, now an insulin user because Dad fed him sugar, refuses.

It would be faint praise to say that Sean Anders' direction surpasses that of frequent Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan of Wheaton. (He gave us the anemic comedies "Jack and Jill," "Grown Ups," "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," plus others.)

"That's My Boy" is a comedy built not on wit or cleverness, but on crass shock value. Its attempt to go emo with a heartfelt dad/son reconciliation comes off as sincere as a Bill Murray compliment.

On the plus side, "That's My Boy" boasts surprisingly colorful appearances by pop artist Tony Orlando as Jamie's sleazy boss, rap star Vanilla Ice as Donny's psycho sidekick, James Caan as a sparring priest, "SNL" headliners Will Forte and Rachel Dratch as a drab couple, and the sensational Susan Sarandon as the middle-aged Miss McGarricle.

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