Big Daddy

Big Daddy (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kristy Swanson, Rob Schneider, Steve Buscemi
Extras: Documentary, Various Trailers, Music Videos

As one of those who actually saw "Billy Madison" in the theatre, I’ve been a fan of Adam Sandler’s solo-career films since the beginning. Unfortunately, due to other commitments (little things like a newborn baby), I was unable to catch his latest film "Big Daddy" when it played in theatres this summer. So, it was with great anticipation that I watched the DVD of "Big Daddy." While it isn’t the piece of garbage that many critics claimed that it was, "Big Daddy" is probably the weakest of Sandler’s films. That having been said, "Big Daddy" is still a funny movie and the DVD offers a surprising number of features.

In "Big Daddy", Adam Sandler plays Sonny Koufax, a Syracuse law school grad, who has become a professional slacker. Due to a wrongful injury lawsuit, Sonny is able to lay around his apartment most of the time, while working only one day a week in a toll-booth. Sonny is obnoxious and arrogant, and doesn’t care what others think of him. He thinks that he’s got it made with his court settlement, his job, and his girlfriend Vanessa (Kristy Swanson).

But, then Sonny’s perfect life begins to unravel. Vanessa claims that Sonny has no direction and she’s ready to move on. Sonny’s roommate Kevin (Jon Stewart) leaves for the Orient. And then, the big surprise comes. A five-year old boy is left on Sonny’s doorstep. Julian (played by the Sprouse twins Dylan and Cole) is Kevin’s son from a previous relationship. As Kevin is now abroad, Sonny has the bright idea to take Julian in as his own as a way to prove to Vanessa that he’s ready to be responsible. Of course, Sonny isn’t ready for anything, let away being a father and he soon learns that being a parent is an incredibly hard job and not something to be taken lightly. Suddenly, Sonny is faced with some tough choices concerning his future and the future of the boy.

As with all of the films from Adam Sandler and his writing partner Tim Herlihy, absurdity is the order of the day. But this is what makes Sandler’s films so unique. He’s not afraid to put elements in the film that have nothing at all to do with the story, but are simply just funny. In "Big Daddy", there are subplots involving Rob Schneider as a delivery boy and Steve Buscemi as a homeless man that do little to motivate the story, but offer many bizarre laughs. (I don’t know why a shot of Buscemi eating cantaloupe was funny, but I laughed.) The incredibly stupid things that Sonny does in his attempt at parenting will have you rolling your eyes (especially the running gag with newspaper), but they are ultimately funny.

Unlike Sandler’s other films, "Big Daddy" makes an attempt to be very sentimental and have a lot of heart. This is both an asset and a detriment to the film. Some of the "touching" scenes work (the best being Sonny’s way of persuading Julian to take a bath), but most come across as being sappy. These scenes appear to be the film’s attempt atmainstream accessibility, and that’s what ultimately hurts the movie overall. We don’t watch Adam Sandler films to see mainstream material. We watch them to see outrageous things like Chris Farley sharing an open-mouth kiss with a giant penguin. I can see mainstream sentiment anywhere, but you don’t see giant penguin kisses everyday. It’s impossible to tell how much of this was a conscious decision, but I would rather see more things on the absurd side.

Another problem with the film is Sandler’s character. Basically, Sandler is playing the same character that he always plays — casually dressed slacker who loses his girlfriend and has to find a way to get back on his feet – although without the speech impediment this time. As if that lack of originality isn’t bad enough, the character of Sonny is very inaccessible at the beginning of the film. To be very blunt, he’s an asshole and the audience completely understands why no one likes him. I suppose that this was necessary to give the story somewhere to go, but it also distances the audience from the film.

One thing that I do like about Sandler is his commitment to his friends and co-workers. Besides director Dennis Dugan (who directed "Happy Gilmore"), there are at least six actors in "Big Daddy" who have been in Sandler’s other films. Now that Sandler is commanding over $15 million per film, he could’ve easily left this troupe behind. It’s nice to see that kind of dedication. (Now all they have to do is make their next film, "Little Nicky" really funny.)

Columbia Home Video has done a fine job with the DVD presentation of "Big Daddy." The film is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The framing appears to be accurate, and no warping of the frame is visible. The picture is very clear, showing no grain or artifacting. Director Dennis Dugan (the "Unidentified Flying Oddball" himself) has given "Big Daddy" a nice color palette with many pastels and bright hues, which play very well on this crisp transfer that ranges from the deepest blacks to the brightest highlights.

The audio on "Big Daddy" is presented as <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track, and sounds very good. Unfortunately, there is not a great deal of surround sound action, but the dialogue is comprehensible and there are no sudden shifts in volume.

The DVD offers the HBO special, "First Look: The Making of ’Big Daddy’". This 13-minute featurette has some interviews with the cast and director, but is mostly comprised of footage from the film. There are two music videos on the DVD, "When I Grow Up" by Garbage, and "Sweet Child O’ Mine" by Sheryl Crow (I’m sorry, I still prefers the original Guns ’N Roses version) [Editor: And I am happy that finally someone put out a decent version of this song without Axl’s obnoxious tweeting. :-)]

There are five trailers on "Big Daddy," two of them being for "Big Daddy." The teaser trailer is presented full-frame and the longer theatrical trailer is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The remaining trailers are for other Columbia DVDs, like the upcoming release "Dick", and "Go." This is at least the third time that I’ve seen the "Go" trailer on a Columbia DVD. It’s great to see them promoting this under-appreciated film. There is also a promo/trailer for the 15th Anniversary Edition of "Ghostbusters" which is presented full-frame.

I think that it’s been proven that Adam Sandler is an acquired taste. Long-time fans will appreciate the humor in "Big Daddy", but will find it lacking the biting edge of his earlier films. Those new to Sandler’s work may want to use "Big Daddy" as a starting place, but keep in mind that it does go for the gross-out jokes. No matter what your take is on the film, it does offer some very funny situations and some quirky characters that you won’t see in other films. "Big Daddy" may not have been the film that I was suspecting, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to call it my own.