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Tamra Davis
Adam Sandler, Darren McGavin, Bridgette Wilson, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Norm Macdonald
Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler

Billy Madison's going back to school... Way back.
Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 11/17/1998

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Billy Madison (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Did success corrupt Adam Sandler? After a string of hits, he bombed with his last effort, 2000ís Little Nicky. In my opinion, even his hits like Big Daddy and The Waterboy were fairly weak flicks. I donít think Sandlerís done anything good since 1998ís The Wedding Singer, frankly.

To find his best work - in my opinion, at least - we actually need to return to Sandlerís first real leading role. That came from 1995ís Billy Madison, a gleefully asinine tale that offered a consistently witty and entertaining experience.

I felt positively toward Sandler before I saw Madison. I'd watched him on Saturday Night Live for a few years and I thought he was terrific. His absurd Weekend Update bit about cheap Halloween costumes kids could make from household items - such as going as ďCrazy SpoonheadĒ - remains one of the funniest SNL routines I've ever seen.

As such, my opinion of Sandler could have dropped after I watched Billy Madison, and to be truthful, it didnít bowl me over at the time. However, the movie continues to hold up well over the years, and it continues to remain a wonderfully silly piece of work. Wedding Singer had more heart, but Madison offered the most laughs.

Billy Madison works upon a slight but clever premise: apparently moronic rich-boy slacker Billy has to successfully repeat grades one through twelve or his hotel magnate father will give the company to suck-up weasel Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford) when he retires. Improbable and ridiculous? Sure! But nonetheless, itís chock full of comedic opportunities.

Some of the film's best-realized moments arise from the absurdity of an adult - even an immature one like Billy - attending classes with very young children. It helps that Sandler plays the role with great charm and occasional innocence; while bits of adult Billy pop out from time to time, he really gets immersed in the grade school culture. Half the humor of the movie comes from simply watching Billy respond to kids in a childlike way, and many funny scenes come from watching Billy use his adulthood to his advantage. I may hate myself afterwards, but I'm always entertained by watching Billy terrorize the first graders at dodgeball. The filmmakers seem to have understood that those elements worked best, which is why we saw little of Billy in middle or high schools.

Clearly this isn't a terribly demanding role, but Sandler nonetheless makes Billy real enough that the viewer roots for him. Yes, its predictable that we see Billy grow from spoiled brat to fairly responsible member of society, but Sandler plays Billy with such an ingratiating ease that we willingly go along for the ride.

The rest of the cast helps make Billy Madison a very entertaining and amusing film as well. Darren McGavin has little to do in his role as Billy's father, but he takes his small moments and makes them interesting. Whitford is one of those actors who has the role of sniveling weasel down pat; he's cartoony, but it's a cartoony movie, so that's fine. Bridgette Wilson grounds the film to a degree with her part as Billy's second grade teacher/love interest. Since she's supposed to be the "adult" in the movie, she doesn't get to do much of great interest, but she performs the role nicely and she certainly adds a tremendous amount of sex appeal to the role. (As an aside, I've worked for a public school system for six years and I've met many teachers over that span. Where are the ones who look like Bridgette Wilson? I'm still searching!) Finally, both Steve Buscemi and Chris Farley provide terrific cameos.

In the end, it's a good thing that Billy Madison boasts some strong performances, because that's really what keeps the movie afloat. Besides its interesting premise, the film offers little unusual, and much of the humor would have been pedestrian at best in the hands of less capable performers. As it stands, Billy Madison offers a very funny and entertaining time; it's the perfect movie to watch when you just want to relax and lay back for a little while.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B / Bonus D

Billy Madison appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not a terrible picture, the movie showed more flaws than I expected.

Sharpness demonstrated some of those concerns. Most of the time, I felt the image remained acceptably well defined. However, it offered more than a few scenes that seemed somewhat soft and fuzzy. This probably occurred due to the presence of some copious edge enhancement. Madison wasnít the worst offender Iíve seen in that regard, but it showed some very noticeable EE at times. The film also displayed a moderate number of flaws such as light grain, speckles and grit. Those concerns never became overwhelming, but they seemed too heavy for such a recent flick.

Colors worked well and offered some of the transferís strongest moments. The film provided a fairly natural but bright palette than translated well here. The tones occasionally looked a little heavy, but they usually seemed vibrant and distinctive. Black levels also appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not too thick. Lose the edge enhancement and Billy Madison would provide a good transfer. As it stood, however, the image seemed fairly mediocre.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Billy Madison showed fewer flaws, but it didnít excel because of a lack of ambition. Like most comedies, the movie featured a limited soundfield that strongly favored the forward channels. It showed very nice stereo spread to the music as well as some general ambience from the sides. The surrounds added light reinforcement of those elements, but they contributed virtually no unique information.

Audio quality appeared good. Speech was natural and distinct, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and accurate, with good fidelity and no signs of distortion. Music seemed nicely bright and vibrant and also demonstrated nice bass response. Overall, the audio worked fine for the movie, but due to its lack of atmospheric ambition, I felt it merited only a ďBĒ.

Billy Madison skimps on supplements. All we get here are some mildly interesting production notes as well as some biographies in the Cast and Filmmakers area. We find decent information on actors Adam Sandler, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Bridgette Wilson, Norm MacDonald, and Darren McGavin plus director Tamra Davis. Lastly, we get trailers for Billy Madison plus Bulletproof Happy Gilmore; those clips reside in the filmography listing for Sandler.

Despite its various shortcomings, Billy Madison offers a consistently entertaining and frequently amusing experience. I think it remains Adam Sandlerís most winning effort. The DVD provides decent but unspectacular picture and sound plus only a rudimentary roster of extras. I like the movie a lot, and the DVD works well enough to merit a recommendation, but donít toss too much money its way.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5317 Stars Number of Votes: 126
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