In Mike Judge’s immortal film Idiocracy, Luke Wilson visits a future where intelligence has been bred out of the population. When he arrives, the narrator tells us, “The No. 1 movie in America was called Ass. And that’s all it was, for 90 minutes. It won eight Oscars that year, including best screenplay.”
Silly, right? Look at the movies up for Oscars this year — The Fighter, True Grit, The King’s Speech. They’re good. And, more important, they’re doing good box office.
Now look at Just Go With It, currently the No. 1 grosser in America. There’s so much more happening in this comedy than an ass farting in tight close-up (the entire plot of Ass). Still, the movie offers evidence that if the posterior were Adam Sandler’s, he could pull that premise off to the tune of $100 million or so.
Judging by the box office, people enjoy everything Sandler does — even when he’s self-indulgently riffing his way through a comedy where every cheap gag has been done elsewhere, repeatedly, better. The plot of this one is lifted from the 1969 comedy Cactus Flower, in which Walter Matthau played a doctor who dates pretty young things using a fake wedding ring to dodge commitment — until free spirit Goldie Hawn demands to meet his wife.
In their fitful attempts to update this premise, writers Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling end up with something far more stupid. Sandler’s wedding ring, we’re asked to believe, is catnip to gorgeous women until he meets one (Brooklyn Decker) who doesn’t like cheaters, even when they offer sob stories about an abusive wife. Since plastic surgeon Sandler already knows he wants to spend the rest of his life with Decker’s breasts — er, and the rest of her — he must produce his mean spouse and fabricate a divorce, stat.
Who better to play the role than our hero’s loyal but tart-tongued nurse (Jennifer Aniston)? Never mind that she’s a single mother whose kids have to be enlisted in the charade. Never mind, either, that the doctor keeps piling whopper on random whopper in his efforts to deceive the blonde, who appears to be the nicest girl in the world, and the dimmest.
If nothing else, Just Go With It proves the generation gap is dead. In Cactus Flower, when Matthau gives Hawn a mink stole, she rolls her eyes at his squareness. Here, the 20-year age gap between Sandler and Decker is summed up by a joke about her fondness for ’N Sync. When Decker struts around in a bikini, Aniston doffs her clothes to show her body is every bit as good.
To her credit, Aniston also pulls out her comic chops and does her best to create a character. So does Nicole Kidman, who inexplicably pops up playing Aniston’s old rival. They shouldn’t have bothered, since Sandler and his buddy Nick Swardson (as his cousin/sidekick) are basically just cavorting like 14-year-olds on Red Bull.
The answer to all these objections is, of course, Just Go With It. The film’s opening gags, which involve egregious examples of bad plastic surgery, make it clear the filmmakers are going for Farrelly-brothers-style comedy, not the character-based farce of the Matthau film. But the jokes, which run the gamut from funny fake deformities to funny foreign accents to funny fat ethnic people to Sandler getting whacked in the balls, make Shallow Hal look deep.
It’s not un-PC humor that’s the problem. It’s that the filmmakers don’t have the balls to go all out and make their hero unlikable. Sandler clearly learned a lesson from the failure of Judd Apatow’s Funny People, in which he mocked his money-making shtick and showed his dark side. But there’s nothing worse than an ass who won’t admit he’s an ass.