Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 30, 2004)
Although I consider myself to be an Adam Sandler fan, I guess I couldn’t make a strong claim to be a big one since I never saw 1996’s Happy Gilmore. One of the comedian’s more enduring flicks, I can’t recall why I never took in the film. I liked its predecessor, 1995’s Billy Madison, so I can’t conjure why I’d avoid Gilmore.
However, I know I skipped a DVD screening of Gilmore because the original release didn’t show the flick in its theatrical aspect ratio. Instead, it presented a fullframe affair, and I didn’t want to support that. That meant I was happy to finally check out Gilmore via this widescreen DVD.
The film introduces us to the title character (Sandler), a hockey-obsessed guy with a mean slapshot and a nasty temper. Unfortunately, he can’t do anything well other than whack the puck. He can’t skate or handle the puck, so his tryouts for hockey squads go nowhere.
Matters go downhill when his girlfriend Terry (Nancy McClure) leaves him due to his continued failure. In addition, his grandma (Frances Bay) gets tossed out of her home because she failed to pay her taxes. She owes $270,000 and has only 90 days to pay or she’ll lose everything. Happy promises to raise the money.
When he gets a challenge to hit a golf ball from the movers who’re taking his grandma’s things, Happy learns he possesses a talent for driving. He swats the hell out of the ball and wins a bet with one of the movers. This inspires him to gamble with local duffers to bring in some cash. Golf pro Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers) sees Happy in action and decides to tutor him. We learn that Chubbs was once a rising pro whose career ended when an alligator bit off his hand.
Happy resists Chubbs’ offer but agrees so he can raise money. He enters a local contest; its winner will go straight to the pro tour. Despite some rocky moments, Happy wins the tournament, much to the delight of tour PR director Virginia Venit (Julie Bowen). On the other hand, leading tour money-winner Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) seems less excited about his new competition.
This shoots Happy right to a tournament event, where he faces off against McGavin and others. Happy ends up in last, but his colorful antics attract an audience. He almost gets bounced from the tour due to his profane rants on the course. However, Venit convinces her boss (Dennis Dugan) to keep him on the tour so she can promote him as a working class hero.
From there, the movie follows some basic threads. We see Happy’s attempts to raise money for his grandma as well as the competition that develops with the snotty Shooter. Since Virginia takes the assignment to work with Happy, the pair get to know each other; inevitably, a romance ensues.
While Madison showed Sandler’s wilder side, to my surprise, he presents a somewhat more naturalistic turn as Happy. That probably sounds odd given the general wackiness of his behavior, and it’s definitely a stretch to refer to Happy as a believable personality. Nonetheless, he’s a more normal personality than Madison, and the movie takes a more realistic tone. It doesn’t include the surreal qualities of its predecessor.
Not that a fair amount of wackiness doesn’t ensue. Probably the movie’s most famous scene, we see Happy face off against Bob Barker in a fight on the golf course. Barker shows a nice ability to make fun of himself and go with the flow in this very amusing sequence.
Other support helps the movie. We get the wonderful Joe Flaherty in a pivotal role as a heckler, and McDonald makes McGavin a delightfully hissable but still funny villain. Bowen creates a surprisingly low-key love interest, one who seems much more believable than the ultra-hot Bridgette Wilson in Madison; she’s real and attainable, unlike the fantasy teacher played by Wilson.
I like the concept of Happy Gilmore and think it has its moments, but I must admit some disappointment with it. The movie enjoys more than a few amusing elements - I guess I just expected it to be more laugh out loud funny, along the lines with Madison.