It’s become the norm that whenever a new Adam Sandler movie drops, the critical vanguard happily unleashes its sharpened and fine-tuned language to spear the prospects of the popular actor/producer. But I sometimes wonder if critics, when watching his particular brand of films, simply put their brains on autopilot and go in with the assurance that yes, they’re in for a terrible ride before the opening credits even drop.
It’s always a good idea to go into every movie with an open mind, but let’s not mistake this caution as adoration for Sandler’s The Do-Over, his latest in a deal to distribute new films via Netflix. I’ll admit it’s pretty bad, yet I often found myself more frustrated at the wasted potential of what might have been.
Our story begins at a high school reunion, with Charlie (David Spade), a middle-aged cuckold, haplessly watching his wife dance and grind her ex-husband and father of their obnoxious twin boys. Max (Adam Sandler), who knew a younger Charlie, watches as his old-friend sheepishly and pathetically “deals” with the exceedingly embarrassing situation. Claiming to be with the FBI, Max finds a way for the two to rekindle their relationship and free Charlie from his loveless marriage and mundane job as a bank manager nestled inside a grocery store. Max does this by taking the identity of two murdered men (Spade as Dr. Ronald Fischman and Sandler as Ryder) that arrived at his mortuary gig (spoiler: he lied about being in the FBI), after Max faked their deaths by a blowing up a yacht.
Everything seems fine at first, as the two men celebrate their newfound freedom, and with a key recovered from inside of the two bodies (I won’t say where but you can probably guess), the two inherit a ton of cash from a safe deposit and a mansion in gorgeous Puerto Rico. After this point the film seems to go off the rails, narratively splintering off into what seems like three different movies better suited for episodic television.
The duo soon realize the two identities they’ve assumed may have left behind some unfinished business, much of which is nasty, and now they’ve become the target of some bad people including a gigantic, acrobatic sociopath German going by the name ‘The Gymnast’. A poolside gun fight catches Charlie off-guard, revealing that Sandler is quite adequate with a gun, saving their lives in the process. Again, Max has lied about who he is, but by this point none of his explanations add up to much and his untruths become entirely irrelevant as the story progresses. It’s not long before the duo track down the real Dr. Fischman’s wife Heather (Paula Patton), and events will soon leads them down the road of a massive conspiracy dealing with cancer research (that’s right!).
After the duo gain their new identities the story doesn’t know where to go so it simply meanders from scene-to-scene hoping that the rest of the movie will miraculously resolve itself. You almost have to admire the film’s resilience to unflappably trudge on, despite any semblance of plot or clue where things are headed. Despite the flimsiest of stories, however, there are some gags and jokes that muster a few chuckles here and there, such as Luis Guzman’s minor role as Jorge the Shooter Boy and his partaking in a threesome (you’ll have to see it for yourselves). But these moments are few and far between.
It feels like everyone involved is phoning it in, with David Spade giving a mostly catatonic performance as the sad sap Charlie; Sandler is Sandler so his schtick is expected and goes without judgment, since this persona has become his Modus Operandi and should be accepted as such. But what’s unfortunate is the inclusion of two talented actors in both Paula Patton and Kathryn Hahn (Sandler’s crazy “girlfriend”), both used in such a base manner despite giving the best performances in the film, a testament to their abilities and their dedication.
That being said, most of the blame shouldn’t fall entirely on the cast; perhaps they were aware how bad this script is as the dialogue they utter is dreadful. Written by Kevin Barnett and Chris Pappas, the script is a poorly thought out labyrinth of jumbled plots and subplots and hit-or-miss jokes that very often miss their mark. It’s a bit surprising that such a shoddy script was approved because it feels largely unfinished.
The Do-Over is bad and mostly unfunny, but it’s not the worst Sandler and company have done, merely because through the veneer I sensed a glimmer of hope for something better that might have risen above the fray if only if it didn’t feel like it was written on the fly. It’s a real shame that somewhere beyond the silliness, the bad plot, and terrible dialogue there seems to be a decent angle that might have worked had careful care been taken in crafting this script and fixing its many problems. Towards the third act a surprisingly touching narrative begins to emerge, but by this point it’s entirely too late in the movie for it to mean anything, and feels like nothing more than an emotional Hail Mary in an attempt to salvage what little the rest of the film has accomplished.