Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.

I’ll be the first to admit that it took me far too long to understand the narrative inspiration for Click. But in my defense, the structural similarities to Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol don’t entirely reveal themselves until the finale, when Michael (Adam Sandler) realizes he’s about to die. Of course, the key difference between this and Dickens is that the protagonist is experiencing his life passing him by firsthand rather than Scrooge’s ghost tour as he looks back on his life and those he’s affected. (I know what you’re about to say, and yes, there’s also a magical remote control in A Christmas Carol. You just weren’t paying close enough attention).

Under this high-minded umbrella, Click becomes not only a success but the best entry in this series to date in nearly every sense of the word. We’ve seen elements of the surreal in such previous entries as The Animal or The Hot Chick, but those films never aspired to be more than dumb comedies and vehicles for their stars to do weird stuff. Naturally, the magical remote does lead to plenty of wacky hijinks early on, but screenwriters Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe manage to give Click enough of an emotional foundation to make Michael’s actions have real, relatable consequences. Audiences (hopefully) can’t relate to how it feels to swap bodies with a teenage girl. The same goes for being injected with animal DNA. By contrast, almost everyone wonders how much his or her life would improve if they could skip the hard stuff in life and fast-forward to times of leisure. And kudos to the script for dedicating enough time to Michael’s grief at missing out on both the small and the big things. As schmaltzy as it’s written, the third-act scene where Michael blows up at his father (Henry Winkler) is devastatingly rendered, and it’s all because Koren and O’Keefe have taken the time to invest us in Sandler and Winkler’s relationship.

Click represents the best of Sandler because it involves everything at which he excels: silly slapstick humor, grown men in need of growing up and overblown anger — there’s literally a bit where Sandler turns himself green and imitates the Incredible Hulk — while still injecting the film with enough empathy to care about the characters’ actions. Watch this film, and it’s understandable why directors have come to view Sandler as a talented dramatic asset. Take the aforementioned scene between Michael and his father. Yes, the script’s table-setting helps underscore the scene, but Sandler’s implicit sadness and regret really help sell the consequences of his actions. Click is Sandler’s way of having his cake and eating it, too, in that he’s allowed to be funny in the first half of the film and mostly dramatic in the second half.

“Director for hire” is a typically condescending term used in Hollywood to describe a film, and sometimes a director, who puts together a film without really adding a personal stamp or a unique style to the finished product. Comedies are especially more difficult for a director to personalize and even more so when the director doesn’t write the script. But director Frank Coraci manages to make Click feel like his own project. Visually representing the remote control’s powers brings forth a difficult task that Coraci effectively executes at a time when the 2000s DVD boom was in full effect and audiences were thankfully already familiar with the various controls and menu features. I was particularly impressed with the ending scene when Michael is on the verge of death and follows his children out in the rain. Coraci’s camera movements and shot selections help add to the drama of the moment, in addition to Sandler’s indelible performance. But perhaps Coraci’s, and the film’s, greatest feat is pulling off the “it was all a dream” ending without inciting mass anger. We know it’s coming sooner or later, but the film at least makes that dream a worthwhile journey.

We’ve come to a great inflection point in this series, as virtually every other entry after this is widely regarded as a low point for Sandler. When Click was in production, Sandler was not only on the verge of turning 40 but also the birth of his first child. Sandler projects those fears of both aging out and not measuring up in his performance. We’ll never know if his work in Click would be any worse if it had arrived during a different time in his life, but Sandler clearly saw something of himself in Michael that he could emulate when he chose the project. When Ebenezer Scrooge emerges from his holiday ordeal, he comes out of it as a changed man. No longer the miserly old grump, he repents for his sins by donating his money to charity and spending Christmas with the Cratchit family. After the success of Click, Adam Sandler would go on to make I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

  • “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Jonah Hill very nearly took the honors for an unprecedented second time for his scene as Michael’s teenage son. But Terry Crews proves once again that he’s a national treasure in his all-too-brief appearance as an enthusiastic lip-syncer. In this time of national reckoning, let’s all agree never to take Terry Crews for granted.
  • Just Go With It: The Happy Madison Promise. For as much as I’ve bemoaned Happy Madison’s un-funny jokes, I will readily admit that there are flashes here and there in every film that show there are talents writing behind the camera. Such as this line, when Sandler runs over the O’Doyle boy’s robot dog: “He’s a lot better than your human dog.” I can’t explain why that line tickles me so much, but the heart wants what it wants.
  • Fart Joke Counter: 2. Once from a dog and once when Sandler literally farts in David Hasselhoff’s face.
  • The Walkout Test: For as unexpectedly horny as this movie is, it’s still a pass.
  • NEXT TIME: The only all-out drama in this entire series — and, perhaps coincidentally, the best-reviewed Happy Madison film — Reign Over Me.