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.
Happy Madison’s Netflix deal almost feels like it was destined to happen from the beginning, but it still poses a few un-answerable questions. Adam Sandler has never expressed any interest in appeasing critics, both in terms of the quality of his performances and in the crudeness of his humor. Netflix provides a comfortable umbrella which he can easily hide under, without worrying about fruitless ticket sales. And yet Sandler and Happy Madison had weathered the storm of overwhelmingly negative reviews and a sour ruling in the court of public opinion, maintaining a stream of steady box-office returns. Indeed, the most recent Happy Madison film that flopped at the box office was 2012’s That’s My Boy. Netflix has partnered with plenty of other production companies and directors over the years, but the streaming giant feels like the most natural home for Happy Madison. Regardless of how poorly its films are received among critics and the general public, Happy Madison still receives the same paycheck.
All of this benefits its first offering, 2015’s The Ridiculous 6, because the film somehow manages to be one of the most offensive films we’ve seen throughout this project. It’s true that Netflix didn’t need to confine its films to MPAA standards when the film was released. It’s also true that Blazing Saddles, widely regarded as one of the best comedies of all time, is filled to the brim with offensive material. But whereas Mel Brooks’ film uses its prolifically problematic material to comment on outdated ways of thinking, The Ridiculous 6 has no higher goals in mind. So what is it that makes the film so irredeemable (besides being bereft of any humor)?
To start, Sandler plays Tommy “White Knife” Dunson Stockburn, a white man raised by Native Americans in the Old West. Does it absolve Sandler from criticism for playing a white character among a family of Native Americans? Not exactly; Sandler still adopts too many stereotypical depictions and mannerisms of Native Americans. Plus, being raised by Native Americans apparently gives him superhuman powers. He also populates the Native American tribe with primarily white actors, including his wife as “Never Wears Bra”. The film was apparently so hard to swallow that the few real Native American castmates reportedly walked off the set. Tommy must reunite with his bank robbing father (Nick Nolte) after he’s kidnapped. It’s here where Tommy begins to meet his five remaining half-brothers, forming the titular Ridiculous 6, and where the film only continues to get more problematic. The primary offender is Taylor Lautner as Lil’ Pete, a mentally handicapped man. Of course, “mentally handicapped” is handled with all of the nuance you’d expect from Happy Madison. Lautner’s commitment to the role is admirable and almost makes up for his uselessly unfunny role in Grown Ups 2, but it’s still not enough to overcome the material. And then there’s the completely superfluous scene with John Turturro and a group of Chinese men where he teaches them the game of baseball.
A film that features comedic talents like Luke Wilson, Terry Crews, Nolte, Will Forte, Steve Zahn and plenty more should be able to withstand a script with so many problematic elements. But despite some very brief genuinely comedic moments, the cast just looks like it’s counting down the days until paychecks are deposited. Sandler’s films occasionally tend to stretch on the long side, but The Ridiculous 6 overstays its welcome by at least 20 to 30 minutes. The aforementioned scene with Turturro is a prime example of what could have worked better as a deleted bonus scene on a DVD. It adds nothing to the film and only seems to be there to give Sandler an opportunity to riff around with his pals. The same goes for the respective appearances of David Spade, Blake Shelton and Vanilla Ice as General Custer, Wyatt Earp and Mark Twain, respectively. Plenty of films we’ve covered work as episodic bits lightly wrapped around a central theme. The Ridiculous 6 can only be considered among those in the loosest sense. Very few scenes flow coherently from one to the next, and the overarching story is too dull to put much effort into piecing together. Even in the worst offerings throughout this project, I’ve never considered ending a film before its finale … until this film. (Not to worry, dear reader: I pushed myself through to the closing credits.)
Netflix has always been notoriously cagey about its viewership numbers for its original programming. Because the company doesn’t release hard data, the general public has to rely on their press releases for information. According to those, The Ridiculous 6 became the most-watched film in Netflix history in its first 30 days upon release. Given Sandler’s popularity at the box office, the factoid isn’t terribly surprising — especially since viewers could watch the film wherever and whenever they wanted; how many of those viewers actually finished the film remains to be seen. I’m just grateful that Netflix now includes the ability to speed up the playback of their content, though the feature somehow doesn’t make The Ridiculous 6 any easier to endure.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Chris Kattan was one of the best Saturday Night Live performers throughout his run, and his talents unfortunately never really transferred to film. It was a joy to see him pop up here as John Wilkes Booth.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: For all his roles as characters with silly voices, Sandler rarely attempts any difficult accents. And for good reason. Here, his Native American accent drifts in and out, as a clear indication of his lack of enthusiasm for the material.
- Fart Joke Counter: ***throws hands up in defeat*** A donkey explosively farts three times.
- The Walkout Test: Is this test obsolete now? Yes and no. I think this film is an easy fail, in that the person in question would begin watching and turn off, without ever returning to it again.
- NEXT TIME: Action! Intrigue! Gay panic! David Spade with a mustache! It’s The Do-Over.