By definition, Adam Sandler movies can’t disappoint. Everyone knows they aim low, duplicating the Happy Madison Productions formula, providing vacations for Sandler and his friends, maybe inclined to make money. In all these aspects, That’s My Boy offers no surprises. Well, maybe one: Rex Ryan wears a jacket and tie.
This wardrobe anomaly is occasioned by his role as Jim, low-rent attorney for Donny Berger, yet another iteration of Sandler’s whiny manchild. Yes, you know that Ryan likes feet and coaches Sandler’s favorite team. You probably also know that he’s possessed of a decent sense of comic timing, not so effectively used here as he is, like everyone else in the film, the victim of some terrible scripting, where each character is loaded with a one-joke to be repeated—again and again. Ryan benefits from the fact that he has another job and so his schedule was likely limited: he only appears for a couple of minutes. Still, his one-joke is a mightily obvious one: Jim’s a Patriots fan, dismayed when Donny does damage to his Tom Brady poster and protective of his Bill Belichick bobblehead.
When you’ve recovered from this hilarity, Jim also sets in motion the film’s plot, revealing that Donny’s in dire straits because of unpaid taxes. He has a weekend to drum up $43,000.
The reason that the perennial loafer Donny owes such money is because he has made money owing to his long-rime-ago infamy as the 12-year-old lover of his teacher (Eva Amurri Martino). An introductory flashback-setup sequence has young Donny (Justin Weaver) not only lauded by all men and boys for living out their ultimate fantasy, but also making something of a tabloid-career out of it, his story the basis of a TV movie and his teen-star ascending around the same time as the Coreys (a montaged teen mag cover has him posing with the young versions of Feldman and the late Haim, their hairstyles alone reminding you, if you needed reminding, that the ‘80s remain an exceptionally dark period in pop history). The rapist teacher goes to prison for 30 years, leaving the baby to be raised by her “soul mate” Donny. He does a horrible job and his son disowns him.
Cut to now, and the son has renamed himself, from Han Solo Berger to Todd (Andy Samberg, and found a way to be really rich, that is, an apparent genius for calculations. Because of this gift, he’s got a big fat job with a hedge fund mucky muck named Pete (Tony Orlando, looking very scarily “preserved”) and an impending marriage to the beautiful Jamie (Leighton Meester). He’s done all the right things, apparently, trying desperately not to be his dad, or even his dad’s son. Woe unto him when dad arrives at the door of the Cape Cod estate where the wedding is set to take place (and where the Happy Madison cast-and-crew are vacationing this time), hoping to scheme the kid into visiting mom in prison, accompanied by tab-TV cameras—and smarmy host-guy Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick, his appearance apparently underscoring how much Sandler loves sports media, as if you might care).
As much as Todd resists Donny’s pleas for a reconnection, he’s soon enough caught up in a pile of irrelevant lies: he’s been claiming his parents were killed in an explosion, and so Donny poses as his “best friend,” one whom everyone loves instantly. Jamie’s hard-ass military brother (Milo Ventimiglia) loves his bawdy stories. Steve loves his beer and “Whassups?” Doddering grandma (Peggy Stewart) loves his giant schlong. They even love his friendship with Vanilla Ice (who plays himself, drinking with his buddy, forgiving him for sleeping with his mother back in the day, and peeing on walls and, well, on himself). (The most alarming image here may be that Vanilla Ice is actually well preserved: whatever hard road he’s traveled has not affected him the ways that everyone else looks affected, Sandler chief among them.)
While the father-son story lopes along in the background, the movie offers up a lot of sex and bodily fluids jokes (puke, shit, jizz), each more emphatic than the one before (the punchline, having to do with the uber-bitchy Jamie’s unworthiness for Donny’s boy, may not be as wowza as the film suggests—you’re feeling awfully weary by the time this non-surprise emerges—but it’s yucky enough). Most of these gags have to do with cheesy guest star appearances, à la The Love Boat. So, on top of Tony Orlando and Vanilla Ice, Todd Bridges plays himself (with obligatory cocaine on his nose), Jimmy Caan shows up as a combative Irish priest, and Ian Zierling plays Donny in the TV movie.
This in-jokey business is familiar to anyone who’s seen an Adam Sandler movie. The degree to which this one extends the R-rated sex and language material doesn’t make it funnier or sharper or more outrageous than Grown Ups or Jack and Jill. But it might tell you something about the imaginative limits of the Sandler machine’s transgressions. No matter how loud or silly, vulgar or mean, they only reinforce the limits. It’s not a new lesson: ask Rex Ryan.