After wowing critics - and alienating some of his fans - with the whimsical, ambitious "Punch-Drunk Love," Adam Sandler must feel that the world needs him to return to his grubby roots.
So arrives the execrable "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights," a humor-free animated musical that's as close to Sandler's own juvenile sensibility as Paul Thomas Anderson's delightful film was removed from it.
The Sandler formula, carried over from the live-action star vehicles which, like this one, he co-wrote, goes something like this: Devise a situation in which Sandler can be as childish and hostile as possible, cram in as many puerile gags as the PG-13 rating can bear (that's quite a few), and introduce a bland, unthreatening love interest who gradually redeems him.
"Eight Crazy Nights" follows the recipe with joyless rigidity, while the animated format strips Sandler of his spontaneity - and, if possible, makes him even less subtle.
Sandler supplies the voice of Davey Stone, a boozing ne'er-do-well who specializes in terrorizing his idyllic hometown throughout the holiday season. Davey, who like Sandler is Jewish, has his reasons: His parents were killed in a car accident during Hanukkah when he was 12.
After his latest round of festive disobedience - during which he steals a snowmobile and destroys an interfaith ice sculpture - Davey is warned by a judge that one more brush with the law will land him in prison for 10 years.
Enter Whitey (also voiced by Sandler), an elderly, 4-foot handyman with an undersized foot and a full coat of white body hair. Whitey, who referees for the town's youth basketball league, volunteers to mentor Davey and keep him out of trouble.
He gets help from his bald, bespectacled twin sister, Eleanore (Sandler again), and, in the movie's only idea that contains a germ of inspiration, a herd of sentient whitetail deer.
In a gag that illustrates the level of humor throughout, Davey pushes Whitey down a snowbank while Whitey's inside a portable toilet, then sprays him with a hose to encase the excrement-coated old man in ice. Later, the deer lick the ice to free Whitey, and we get a close-up of the animals' teeth, dripping in do.
Considering the possessive title credit, there's really no one to blame but Sandler for the movie's cavalcade of telegraphed punch lines and leadfooted sight gags. "Eight Crazy Nights" is a product of Sandler's production company, Happy Madison, and he exhibits a suffocating control over the project.
To fill out the voice-over cast, he enlists his old "Saturday Night Live" buddies, including Rob Schneider, who provides redundant narration. And Sandler casts Jackie Titone, his real-life fiancee, as Davey's love interest.
Director Seth Kearney and the rest of the "creative" team behind "Eight Crazy Nights" eschew the potential for inventiveness offered by animation, staging every scene as if the characters were actors standing around on a set. The frames are bereft of detail, and the faces lack contour and range of expression.
On "SNL" and on his comedy albums, Sandler has proven himself an occasionally dexterous lyricist. But all the songs in "Eight Crazy Nights" comment directly on the plot, robbing them of any surprise or ingenuity. Sandler's signature throwaway lyrics, the ones that rhyme but otherwise whirl giddily off-topic, have never been lobbed so halfheartedly.
Sandler and company even manage to mess up their one can't-miss element, a new version of his beloved "Hanukkah Song." Unable or unwilling to work it into the movie, they simply play it over the credits, forcing anyone who wants to hear Sandler's latest compendium of Jewish celebrities to read the names of the movie's "digital cel painters."
A critic's idle wish is that Sandler will run out of patience for material like this after he collects the Oscar nomination he deserves for "Punch-Drunk Love." But audiences are more likely to dictate his future, and they have at least 80 reasons to reject "Eight Crazy Nights."
"Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual humor, drinking and brief drug references. Running time: 71 minutes. One star out of four.
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