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.
Sequels are a tricky business in Hollywood, especially when the original film wraps up neatly enough and doesn’t shoehorn in the possibility of more stories in the closing minutes. By 2015, a sequel, spin-off or prequel was almost expected for any mainstream studio film that had achieved even middling success at the box office. A sequel to Paul Blart: Mall Cop at least made financial sense as it exploded past its budget, making almost $200 million at the box office. Blart also had recency bias in its favor, as the original film was only six years old in 2015. Joe Dirt, meanwhile, had neither of those factors in its favor. The original film was one of Happy Madison’s first productions in 2001 and made only $31 million against a $17 million budget. Regardless, sequels to both films were greenlit, and in 2015, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser were released upon the world.
Successful sequels offer an opportunity for an audience to not only spend more time with the characters from the first film, but to expand their worlds and mythologies. Unsuccessful sequels simply re-hash their character beats and plotlines in a bald-faced way to cash in on audience’s affections. Neither film exactly upends their basic formulas, but Dirt 2 comes out as the clear winner, as it at least tries to do something different (read: weird) with its story. Unconstrained from telling his life story as in the first film, Dirt 2 finds Joe (David Spade) and Brandy (Brittany Daniel) settling down and starting a family. A tornado transports him back in time, and Dirt must go on more cross-country misadventures to get back to his family. If you found yourself wishing you could experience Spade and most of the characters from the first film through the lenses of classic films like The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, Forrest Gump, The Silence of the Lambs and surely many more, you’re in luck! Not every narrative decision works, but the creative team should at least receive some credit for stepping outside the box.
Blart 2 remains one of the most disposable entries in the Happy Madison canon. Immediately jettisoning Jayma Mays and every other tether to the first film (with the exception of Blart’s daughter, played by Raini Rodriguez), Blart (Kevin James) is transplanted to Las Vegas for a security officer convention and must foil the plans of an art thief (Neal McDonough) and his crew. If I’m being generous, the one improvement in this sequel is the villain; at least here, his plan is clear-cut and understandable. Eschewing any kind of romantic subplot, Blart 2 pins its hopes on Blart’s protective relationship with his daughter, plus a doubling-down of fat guy humor. James had already carved out a solid niche as a movie star, so it’s hard to think of Blart 2 as anything but a shameless cash grab.
Meanwhile, Joe Dirt 2 had a much trickier road to production. Sony pinned hopes for its new streaming service, Crackle, on the film’s success. Of course, it’s unfair to say that the film’s barely there reception led to Crackle’s downfall, but the site essentially folded and Sony began to sell its interest in the company not long after Dirt 2’s release. Could the film have had more of an impact with a traditional theatrical release? The core audience that saw the original film surely would have returned for a second adventure, but the film’s production was so small and under-funded that it would have stood little chance of relevance.
It’s revealing that Dirt 2 was able to rope in many of the stars from the original film, including Christopher Walken, Adam Beach and Dennis Miller, while Blart 2 barely acknowledges the characters or settings of the first film past the opening minutes. Sure, the aforementioned actors likely had greater availability, but their appearances are clear evidence of their reverence for Joe Dirt The First. Many of the Happy Madison films, especially in the later half, are focused more on situations and premises and less on characters, which is why it makes sense that Blart and Dirt got the sequel treatments. No intellectual property in Hollywood is ever truly dead — especially for a production company as shameless as Happy Madison — so it’s an open question whether any other films we’ve covered will be resurrected again. In the meantime, I’ll be over here keeping my fingers crossed for a Strange Wilderness sequel (working title: Stranger Wilderness).
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Much like its prequel, Blart 2 is stunningly bereft of big-name cameos. Dirt 2, meanwhile has former NBA All Star Baron Davis appear — and in the film’s funniest scene, no less — as a doctor that must perform the world’s worst procedure.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: I don’t think I’ve ever talked about how awful the prosthetics generally are in Happy Madison films (with the exception of Click), but both of these films feature truly terrible hair and makeup pieces. Gary Valentine’s bald cap in Blart 2 looks like it was slapped on right before filming by a high school student with no experience. The same for Walken’s $2 hairpiece in Dirt 2.
- Fart Joke Counter: Quite possibly a new record for this series! There are none to be found in Blart 2, but Joe Dirt 2 picks up the slack with aplomb, bringing in a whopping 10 fart jokes, where a gang of characters take turns literally farting in Dirt’s face.
- The Walkout Test: Blart 2 remains a slam-dunk pass, but I’m sure that Dirt 2 is a fail.
- NEXT TIME: Chris Columbus, director of Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and many more, comes under the Happy Madison umbrella for Pixels.