Saturday, July 23, 2011

Just Go With It

Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Dave Matthews, Nicole Kidman, Nick Swardson, Bailee Madison
Running Time: 110 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

It's getting to the point where I dread reviewing each new Adam Sandler comedy, but not for the reasons you'd expect. After enjoying widely maligned recent efforts of his like Don't Mess With The Zohan and Grown Ups I've kind of grown tired constantly defending myself and coming up with what many claim are new "excuses" as to why they work. As usual, his latest "Happy Madison" collaboration with director Dennis Dugan, Just Go With It, is much better than you've heard, even if admittedly still barely recommendable. If nothing else, the always self-aware Sandler always knows the kind of movie he's making and in actually being likable, doesn't deserve the groundless Eddie Murphy comparisons he often receives. So other than miscasting the actor as a womanizing lothario and portraying one of the female leads as a clueless idiot, it's a mildly enjoyable comedy that's funny, doesn't drag despite its nearly two hour running time and features a couple of really good performances. As hard as it may be to shake the feeling that Sandler's phoning it in with another safe, harmless, mainstream moneymaker, there isn't too much wrong with this. 

Sandler is Danny Maccabee, a wealthy Los Angeles plastic surgeon who twenty years ago was dumped by his fiancee on his wedding day (as we learn through a flashback featuring Sandler wearing a prosthetic schnoz) and hasn't taken off his wedding ring since, believing women go for guys stuck in unhappy marriages. But when Danny hooks up with supermodel-looking sixth grade math teacher Palmer (actual supermodel Brooklyn Decker) he seems to have finally made a real connection until she discovers the ring the morning after, angrily assuming he's married. So Danny concocts a wild scheme, recruiting his longtime office manager Katharine (Jennifer Aniston) to play the role of his unhappy wife, who he must convince Palmer he's now in the process of divorcing. As the lie spirals out of control, it soon involves Katharine's kids, Maggie (Bailee Madison) and Michael (Griffin Gluck) assuming the roles of their children and Danny's oddball cousin Eddie (Nick Swardson) playing his "wife's" new boyfriend, "Dolph Lundgren." All of this takes place during an impromptu trip to Hawaii in which Danny must continue with this charade and deal with his real feelings for Katharine.

The film's biggest flaws are out of the way early with the questionable casting of Sandler as a wealthy plastic surgeon who seems able to pick up any beautiful woman half his age at the drop of a hat simply by leaving on his wedding ring. That this is done seriously without so much as a wink at the audience is a problem, but since Sandler's always there to effectively mock the material, he's the only actor who would be immune to his own miscasting anyway. Once you get past that premise and the rushed "connection" between Danny and Palmer at a party (that's notable only for a hilarious Kevin Nealon cameo as plastic surgery addict), the rest of the film does get some creative mileage out of this fake marriage scenario, mostly due to Jennifer Aniston, who for a change is well cast in an age appropriate role that plays to her strengths as a performer.  She's perfect as his sassy, sarcastic assistant who's uncomfortably forced into playing the role of his estranged trophy wife. The kids are also terrific, especially Bailee Madison as the daughter intent on using this lie her own acting audition, complete with a phony British accent. All of these scenes work, but often at the expense of the thinly written Palmer character, who really does unintentionally come off looking like the village idiot for falling for this. In her acting debut, Brooklyn Decker isn't asked to do much and doesn't, but she's okay in a role she couldn't reasonably have been expected to save. But unlike Aniston, she has no chemistry with Sandler at all and clearly doesn't try to add anything to the character a seasoned actress could have. In a fact not heavily promoted, this is actually a very loose remake of 1968's Cactus Flower, for which won Goldie Hawn her Best Supporting Actress Oscar in Decker's role so we can at least be grateful Kate Hudson didn't decide to take it. Nick Swardson is funnier than expected as "Dolph," considering the limitations of his stereotypical role.

Say what you will about the intelligence level of the plot (which basically focuses on a one giant misunderstanding we've seen dozens of variations of), but at least director Dennis Dugan has this down to a science and grasps the idea this is supposed to be a comedy and spares us the requisite big reveal at the end complete with the couple fake breaking up. It also thankfully doesn't resemble the tone deaf Forgetting Sarah Marshall from a couple of years ago where a Hawaiian vacation existed only as an excuse for its depressed protagonist to mope around a resort and whine about a doomed relationship. This trip is actually upbeat, highlighted by the hilarious performances of Nicole Kidman and singer Dave Matthews (in his biggest Sandler part yet) as a kooky vacationing married couple. Far from the brief hidden cameo it's been downplayed as, Kidman actually has a pretty decent sized supporting role as a super-competitive former friend of Aniston's that's more entertaining than you'd think, reminding us (and probably her) that she should do comedy more often being that she's good at it.

As a longtime Sandler fan dating all the way back to his early albums and run on Saturday Night Live,  even I'm under no illusion that his current comedies can compete with Happy Gilmore or Billy Madison on the laughter scale, but this holds up on its own terms. About the only huge complaint I can offer up is that it doesn't have nearly enough bite. So while it's no worse in quality than Zohan or Grown-ups, it is wimpier and makes you miss the days when Sandler took risks and was capable of flying off the deep end with his craziness every once in a while. Judging from the stupendously insane trailer for his next project, I may finally get my wish, even if everyone thinks I should be careful what I wish for. Sandler's one of those actors critics and audiences will always seem to disagree on, but it's tough denying his talent. In a perfect world it would be nice if he challenged himself again more (and I suspect he eventually will) but for now he's comfortable doing what he does best, even if some can't stand it. Just Go With It may be yet another middle-of-the-road Sandler effort but given the scorn he receives when he tries anything different, it's hard to blame him for sticking to a formula that works.

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