It’s surely a coincidence that Adam Sandler’s latest exercise in adolescent humor, The Do-Over, hit Netflix within hours of Donald Trump officially clinching the delegate majority for the Republican nomination. Unrelated events, yes, but both alarmingly indicative of the depths to which our cultural tastes have sunk.
The very fact that Sandler is in the midst of a massively lucrative four-film deal for Netflix — one that has so far paid the company dividends — shows that the money (or the votes, for that matter) doesn’t always go to the most deserving candidate. The guy hasn’t produced or starred in a quality film for the better part of a decade, and the early returns on the Netflix deal seem to prove that no amount of financial backing will dissuade him from trotting out the same tired dick jokes and latent misogyny that carried him to fame in the ‘90s. Last year’s Western spoof The Ridiculous 6 even threw racism into the mix, leading some Native American actors to walk off set but doing little to stop the Sandler train from rolling forward.
That train has now arrived at its next stop: The Do-Over, a comedy about two middle-aged men who fake their deaths and assume new identities in order to escape the soul-crushing monotony of their suburban lives. At least that’s the case for the hapless Charlie McMillan (David Spade), who manages a bank inside a supermarket and spends his spare time being emotionally abused by his wife and twin stepsons.
When Charlie meets his old friend Max Kessler (Sandler) at their 25th high school reunion, he unknowingly becomes involved in a plan that literally ends his life and allows him to start a new one. Max has stumbled across two dead bodies, and he uses them to fake his and Charlie’s deaths so that they might get a second chance in life. Charlie needs it because he’s a “pussy” (the film’s word, not mine) who can’t make his own decisions, while Max needs it for an entirely different reason that becomes clear as the film’s convoluted plot twists and turns its way to something resembling a conclusion. Along the way, Max and Charlie get shot at a bunch, have sex with women impossibly out of their league, and check off any other action-movie boxes that remain. It’s all way more complicated than it has to be, but at least that beats the absolute lowest common denominator.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The Do-Over is not a film worthy of critical praise. Much of the screenwriting comes across as lazy, forced, or half-formed, both on the micro level (A sample joke about an uncircumcised penis: “I think that snake was a cobra because it had a hood and a flat head”) and in the general sense of continuity and logical cohesion. Many of the jokes are simply unfunny and some may even result in ‘Nam-style flashbacks to the ‘90s, when the mere fact of homosexuality could be played for laughs and phrases like “pussy pounder” were shocking enough to generate something other than a shrug or a sigh. Sandler’s problem with misogyny and homophobia has undermined his work for years, and it continues to worsen as the rest of pop culture evolves around him. In a way, it’s kind of fitting that The Do-Over starts out at a high-school reunion, because its star often comes across as the juvenile class clown who refused to grow up while everyone else did.
Sandler’s co-star Spade has returned to the straight-man role he settled into while playing opposite Chris Farley in the ‘90s, though his character is far too milquetoast to take seriously. He comes across almost as a caricature of what the screenwriters were probably going for, exhibiting almost no personality traits that make him likable or understandable outside of the generic “fish out of water” context. There is a mutual comfort between Spade and Sandler that dates back to their days as Saturday Night Live castmates, but comfort isn’t exactly chemistry, and while the two co-exist peacefully enough they rarely elevate each other to new comedic heights.
So now that we’ve established that The Do-Over has its share of flaws and isn’t about to kickstart Adam Sandler’s late-career renaissance, let’s pause for a moment to say some nice things about the film. For one, it’s leaps and bounds better than The Ridiculous 6, which failed on almost every level beyond generating a convincing aesthetic. Like that film, The Do-Over stretches on for nearly two hours and throws everything it can at the wall in hopes that something will stick. (Sandler seems to approach comedy as if it’s a 12-round boxing match.)
The good news is that a few things do stick here, and there’s little risk of the film running its course without eliciting a couple (shameful, inadvertent) laughs. Some of the more juvenile jokes land if you don’t think about them too hard, such as one ludicrous moment when Max goes temporarily insane and fires a flare gun at a bunch of hot babes. The cleverest gag involves the menacing “henchman” who doggedly tracks Max down at every stop; it turns out he’s not a murderer at all, but a member of the fraud department at American Express. It’s not quite enough to save the film from the trash heap, but it proves the screenwriters didn’t sleepwalk their way through every scene.
Honestly, at this point it seems a bit absurd to even assign grades to Sandler’s films; if you’re of the mind to watch and enjoy the guy’s brand of humor, no critical analysis could possibly dissuade you. The Do-Over isn’t Sandler at his best, but it’s also not quite as putrid as what we’ve come to expect from him lately. A central plot device in the film is a key that’s been stuffed up a corpse’s rectum, and that’s a decent metaphor for Sandler’s Netflix-era output: Sure, it stinks, but it still fits somewhere.