Once upon a time, in a decade long past, Adam Sandler was the king of irreverent comedy. He took his Saturday Night Live goodwill and cashed it in for a lucrative film career. He was Chevy Chase reborn as a stoned slacker with an absurdist bent. But today his output feels lacking, not just in concept but execution. What happened? Is there a secret reason why Sandler fell out of the good graces of the ticket-buyers who originally made him a star?
To figure out the answer to this question, we must first take a look at his original hits. The mid-'90s sleeper comedy hits Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison joined forces to become the one-two punch that catapulted him from late-night NBC star to all-time cineplex star. What about these movies made them work?
With Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, Sandler had something to prove. Making the SNL-to-mainstream transition isn’t easy. Many of his contemporaries failed, including Dana Carvey, Julia Sweeney and Chris Kattan. The stakes were high.
2000 years ago, the Roman poet Horace claimed, “adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it.” Well, with his early hits, Sandler certainly had adversity. He was the underdog, and being the underdog can motivate someone to create works of absurdist genius. Fast forward 20 years and Sandler is a box office giant, with even his lesser films consistently earning big numbers. Now he has prosperity, which (according to Horace) could be concealing his genius.
That’s one reason for the change in his cinematic creativity, but it’s not the only reason.
Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison took place in vague suburban locations. His 1999 hit Big Daddy took place in New York City: Home base for the Brooklyn-born comedian. Listing the locations of his films might seem like an erroneous detail when it comes to questioning his creative output, but there’s actually a noticeable trend.
Let’s take a look at the locales of Sandler’s most notable hits in the first five years of his film career:
(1995) Billy Madison – General Suburb
(1996) Happy Gilmore – General Suburb
(1998) The Wedding Singer – New Jersey
(1999) Big Daddy – New York City
(2000) Little Nicky – New York City
The locations seem to be either generic or in Sandler’s comfort zone as a New York native. But now, let’s take a look at the filming locations of Sandler’s most notable hits in the most recent five years of his career.
(2014) Blended – Sun City Luxury Resort, South Africa
(2015) The Ridiculous Six – Santa Fe, New Mexico
(2016) The Do-Over – Puerto Rico
A new trend emerges. No longer are the locations a boring result of Adam Sandler pointing out his window and saying “let’s film there.” In Sandler's more recent films, the locations are fun, vibrant and ideal vacation destinations. But this can be justified: A film shot in a pretty location will be a prettier film, no? That could be the explanation, except for what Sandler himself said.
Adding credence to the idea that his movies are just subsidized vacations, you’ll notice he tends to cast his best friends in his films. Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Drew Barrymore tend to show up in most of his flicks. And why not? If you’re getting a movie studio to pay for your vacation, why not bring your besties?
If you’re trying to just hang out, why wouldn’t you half-ass the work so you can double-ass the play? We can deride Sandler for not generating quality output, but we can’t deny that if given the same opportunity, we might make the same choices he’s making.
But as recently as 2008, Sandler tried. He teamed up with comedy legends Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel to make the vastly underrated You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. So if you want to mourn the death of the quality Sandler, do so while watching this clip from that underappreciated comedy.