Monday, March 19, 2012
Jack and Jill
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Katie Holmes, Al Pacino, Eugenio Derbez, Tim Meadows, Nick Swardson
Running Time: 91 min.
★★ (out of ★★★★)
It's usually bad practice to go into a movie with your fingers crossed that it won't be as bad as everyone's saying. But when that movie's the Razzie-nominated Jack and Jill I can be forgiven. And that's coming from someone who really likes Adam Sandler. So much that at the risk of losing whatever credibility I'd built up as a critic I actually recommended the likes of You Don't Mess With Zohan, Grown Ups and, more recently, Just Go With It. If you stopped reading now I wouldn't blame you, but those films, despite signaling a disappointing direction for his career, were mildly enjoyable, if not anywhere near the disasters most critics made them out to be. This is another story. While Jack and Jill's still maybe not quite as bad as you've heard (though it's really close), it represents a new low for frequent Sandler collaborator and Happy Gilmore director Dennis Dugan. But what's more alarming is that for the first time Dugan doesn't even seem to be trying and I've actually liked most of his stuff. Everyone's going through the motions of a one-joke premise, even as I continue holding out hope Sandler's career choices are some kind of elaborate social experiment or practical joke on the ticket-buying public. But I'm probably being too optimistic.
What we have is the shell of Sandler comedy hiding behind the thin conceit of ( and it hurts to say this) an Eddie Murphy movie. This time he's Jack Sadelstein, an advertising exec who lives in L.A. with his beautiful wife, Erin (Katie Holmes) and two kids Sofie (Elodie Tougne) and Gary (Rohan Chand). Jumping right into things with practically no set-up and seconds after a somewhat inspired opening credit sequence, Jack's needy and annoying twin sister Jill (also Sandler) arrives from New York to spend Thanksgiving with them. Needless to say she's a nightmare and initially a major distraction for Jack in attempting to land Al Pacino (Al Pacino) for a big Dunkin' Donuts commercial spot. At a Lakers game (featuring an unfunny cameo from Johnny Depp who seems weirder as "himself" than any eccentric character he's played), Pacino develops a crush on Jill. Seizing the opportunity, Jack realizes this infatuation may not be such a bad thing, but most choose between his career and the feelings of his boisterous, insecure twin with whom he shares an uneasy love/hate bond.
With this outing Sandler has now finally released a full-blown, feature-length version of one of those fake bad comedies his character from Funny People starred in with the only difference being he doesn't seem in on the joke this time. It does have its moments, like a couple of great lines delivered from Jack's adopted Indian son and a funny running gag about how Jill can't remember famous movie titles. And even in dreck like this Sandler proves he's a substantial talent who deserves better and can deftly handle both roles, even impressively playing Jack pretending to be Jill in one sequence. The problem is everything else related to Jill, who's too annoying for anyone to root for, which makes Dugan's inexplicable attempt to deliver a warm-hearted family comedy seem that much more delusional. Obviously, she's supposed to be a pain but that doesn't make it any less brutal or repetitive for audiences who have to watch Sandler prove its capable to irritate audiences for 91 minutes, then backtrack and try apologizing. Equally uninspired are the myriad of celebrity cameos than have become a staple in all his films but this time seem more unnecessary than usual. In addition to the aforementioned Depp, are appearances from Christie Brinkley, Shaq, John McEnroe, Jared Fogle, Bruce Jenner, Dan Patrick, Billy Blanks, Dana Carvey, Rob Schneider, Norm MacDonald and Drew Carey. Stuff like this can work in small doses to create well-timed laughs (as they have in past Sandler vehicles) but when there's a cameo a minute just to show off, its novelty wears off fast.
One person who definitely isn't relegated to a cameo is Al Pacino, who's featured in so many scenes it's a wonder he didn't get top billing over Sandler. I'll give him this though: He doesn't phone it in. While Pacino's recent career slide is often compared to that of his contemporary Robert De Niro, at least Pacino has some degree of self-awareness and commits to making each new trainwreck he stars in more entertaining than it has any right to be. He's justifiably been singled out as the best thing in this and the actual Dunkin Donuts commercial is a hoot, but after a while even his presence starts to seem like too much of a good thing. Dugan beats a good joke into the ground, slathering crazy Pacino all over the film to the point of overload when it would have been more effective to just pick the right spots.
Most bothersome to me is the idea of Sandler and Katie Holmes co-starring in a film together and this being the result. As a huge longtime fan of both performers there's no advance buzz bad enough that could have dissuaded me from wanting to see them together as onscreen spouses (and I still say a great comedy or drama could come from the pairing). A welcome presence in any film, the lovely, talented Holmes isn't given a whole lot to do as Erin besides sweetly support and encourage Jill while her husband does the exact opposite. She's essentially playing the perfect wife which, come to think of it, is actually pretty good casting. Her petrified reactions to the insanity sometimes create (un)intentional laughs, like when she's attacked by an in drag David Spade. While I wish she had more to do it's likely no one will remember her or anyone besides Sandler and Pacino were in this, which might be a blessing since the former should deservedly take the blame for also producing it.
I'm not sure Sandler thinks there's a problem here or he if he even cares. He's clearly settled into an auto-pilot mode of making these bankable family-friendly comedies but the formula's become worn and predictable, with the poor box office returns for this indicating audiences may finally be catching on. If he isn't careful he'll soon head into that dreaded Eddie Murphy territory, which would be a shame considering the talent he's previously shown when his strengths are highlighted with the right material. But what's become increasingly frustrating with these Sandler films is how much wussier each one gets. If he wants to make more family-oriented movies as he gets older that's understandable, but why can't they be smart? Or if he wants to continue cashing big paychecks for low brow comedies that's fine also. But at least extend us the courtesy of making them angry and R-rated, minus a sappy message the film doesn't earn. Either way, playing it safe just doesn't suit him.