Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Columbia-TriStar, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, fullscreen, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, double side-single layer, 28 chapters, rated PG-13, 93 min., $24.95, street date 11/2/99.
Directed by Dennis Dugan. Starring Adam Sandler, Joey Lauren Adams, Jon Stewart, Cole Sprouse, Dylan Sprouse, Josh Mostel.
Thirty-two-year-old 32-year-old Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler) is a law school graduate who is steadfastly avoiding the pressures of adult responsibilities. As the lone holdout among his group of law school buddies, he eschews the career and marriage fast track for a part-time job, the neighborhood sports bar and endless take-out meals.
Even his roommate and old law school buddy, Kevin (Jon Stewart), is joining the ranks of the grown-ups by proposing to his longtime girlfriend, Corinne (Leslie Mann), who's eternally at odds with Sonny and whose former life as a Hooters waitress is always good for a chuckle. The only people who appreciate Sonny's unique outlook on life are Corinne's beautiful sister, Layla (Joey Lauren Adams), a hard-working attorney, and Sonny's longtime take-out food delivery guy (Rob Schneider), who's practically achieved the status of a third roommate.
In a misguided attempt to impress his girlfriend, Vanessa (Kristy Swanson), and prove he's ready for responsibility, Sonny adopts a five-year old boy, Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse), under the false pretense of being his biological father. When the plan doesn't work out and Vanessa leaves him anyway, Sonny tries to "return" the kid to Social Services. Faced with placing Julian in a children's home until the agency finds a suitable foster family, Sonny agrees to take care of him for the time being.
Although plunged into the unknown territory of sleep deprivation, irritating children's songs and bedwetting, Sonny soon embraces his role as a temporary dad taking an unconventional approach to child rearing. But the ruse eventually catches up with him when Social Services discovers he isn't Julian's real father. In an attempt to keep the boy he has grown to love and make their relationship legal and permanent, Sonny surprises himself, his family and friends as he comes to learn and accept real-life responsibility.
Adam Sandler gets a very bad rap among the critics and I've spent a fair amount of time defending him. I've liked Sandler's work for a number of years, and I always thought his act was much more clever than his detractors recognize. His movies haven't been great, but they've always offered some decent laughs and a fair amount of general entertainment.
Until Big Daddy, that is. This is the film in which he does everything that his critics always accused him of doing. It's a relentlessly stupid movie that gleefully embraces vulgarity and foul behavior but tries to mend its ways at the end.
It didn't work. Sandler essentially plays the same immature character in all his movies, but he seems to weary of that act and he doesn't pull it off at all effectively in Big Daddy. While he always seemed crass in the past, there was nonetheless a layer of charm and wit about him, but that's nowhere to be found here. He just seems like a crude jackass, and his "growth" as the movie continues appears forced and artificial.
Maybe he doesn't like to work with kids, and I can't blame him after spying the twin boys (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) who play his ward, Julian. These kids have "show biz babies" written all over them; they're excessively cute and cloying and quickly got on my nerves. Actually, Big Daddy seemed mildly entertaining at the start, but as soon as these tikes enter the picture, it's all downhill from there.
As far as the remainder of the cast goes, they're competent but unspectacular. Of course, it would have helped if they'd been given actual characters, but since even our protagonist is nothing more than just a goofball cliche, it was unrealistic to expect more polished development for the others. The film often attempts to plumb laughs from one character's former employment at Hooters, and it also frequently offers humor in the form of a guy who's uncomfortable that two of his old college friends are now gay lovers; laugh with me as he shakes his head in response to their antics. Now that's humor!
Any movie that gets many of its laughs from various bodily functions generated by a five-year-old doesn't curry much favor with me. I'm all for dumb movies - I heartily embrace the humor of stupidity - but there needs to be some cleverness involved. Sandler did that in the past, but it appears he hopped on this train simply to pick up his (probably considerable) paycheck. Why this stinker did so well at the box office is a mystery to me.
Despite the poor quality of the movie itself, Big Daddy has been issued as a pretty strong DVD from Columbia Tristar (CTS). Big Daddy appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and also in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed version was evaluated for this review.
All in all, the picture looks absolutely terrific. Sharpness always seems dead-on, and the image reveals a great deal of detail. I detected no flaws of any sort from the print utilized, and grain and digital artifacts also seemed nonexistent. Colors looked natural and appropriate, while black levels and shadow detail seemed strong and accurate. It's a consistently excellent picture.
The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has its strong points, but it doesn't match up to the high standards of the picture. That's mainly because it's a very unambitious mix. The audio sticks very closely to the front channels. It offers some decent stereo imaging, with acceptable use of panning and right and left side effects. However, surround usage is nearly nonexistent; there seemed to be some light ambience at times - particularly when musical selections played - but it was very subdued; at times, I had to stick my head close to one of the rear speakers just to detect if anything emitted from them. Since Big Daddy is a comedy, I didn't expect much surround activity, but a film from 1999 should present a more involving audio environment than we hear on this DVD.
One redeeming factor regards the quality of the sound. It's frankly excellent throughout the film. Dialogue and effects appear consistently quite clear, natural, and well-articulated, with no notable distortion. The music also sounds very good, with both the classical score and the many pop/rock songs coming through nicely. While I still think a little more activity would have helped, the audio for Big Daddy sounds good enough that it eventually complements the film.
While it won't qualify as a full-fledged special edition, Big Daddy offers a few decent supplements. First up is "HBO First Look: Making of Big Daddy". This 13 minute program offers a very superficial and uninformative look at the making of the film. It's basically an extended trailer with such delights as seeing Sandler and costar Rob Schneider chat with the Sprouse twins at a Hooters. Oh joy! Well, at least it ended quickly.
In addition, this DVD includes music videos from both Sheryl Crow ("Sweet Child O' Mine") and Garbage ("When I Grow Up"). Crow's clip is pretty standard; we see Sheryl wander around as she lipsynchs the song and scenes from the film are intercut. Her cover of the Guns 'n Roses hit is very uninspired and dull, and the video's about the same.
Much better is the Garbage clip. This is partly because the song itself is much more compelling than Crow's somnambulant affair, but it's also a much more entertaining video. Yes, it adheres to the lipsynch/film segment formula as well, but Shirley Manson's bitch goddess presence makes it eminently entertaining. It's not hyperbole to state that the Garbage video is easily the best thing about this DVD.
Finally, we receive some standard DVD extras. Two trailers for Big Daddy appear, as well as ads for fellow CTS films Dick, Go and the 15th anniversary video of Ghostbusters. The "talent files" provide information about director Dennis Dugan as well as six cast members (seven if you count both Sprouse kids). For some inexplicable reason, CTS produces the worst cast and crew biographies in the business, and these tidbits are similarly sparse and borderline useless. (Though I was interested to note that Dugan also directed 1990's Problem Child, one of the worst films ever made. I still consider it to be the most offensive movie I've yet seen - Big Daddy is a classic compared to it.) The DVD booklet also provides some very basic production notes about the movie.
While CTS have produced a pretty good DVD, that's ultimately irrelevant if the movie itself blows. Big Daddy indeed matches that lowly status; it's easily the worst Adam Sandler movie I've seen, and that ain't good. I count myself as a Sandler fan, but this one's heading quickly to the "inactive" file. Pass it by.