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 Ben Sears and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley. (If and as Happy Madison Productions releases new films, as they have in this instance, Ben will return to the Happy Valley.)
The facts are these: Sean Payton, then the coach of the New Orleans Saints, was suspended from coaching for the entirety of the 2012 NFL season for his role in what came to be known as Bountygate. In its simplest terms, Bountygate was a scandal wherein the Saints’ defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, rewarded defensive players for injuring offensive players. Although the scheme was reportedly Williams’ brainchild, Payton received the lion’s share of the blame because of his authoritative position. During that suspension, Payton helped coach his son’s sixth-grade football team in an effort to reconnect with his distant family.
Knowing all of this — and knowing Happy Madison’s track record — does this seem like the type of story that would best be fitted to the production company’s sensibilities? If you’re anything like me, you were left scratching your head when Home Team was announced and even more so when the trailer was released. How could a tale of redemption that’s based on a true story (a first for Happy Madison) also successfully include such goofy antics and vomit gags? The answer, regrettably, is not very well.
Kevin James stands in as Payton, who bears a passing resemblance to the real-life coach as long as you don’t squint too hard. It doesn’t take long for Payton to insert himself into his son Connor’s (Tait Blum) team and essentially take over. He’s supposed to be the offensive coordinator to Taylor Lautner’s head coach, but Lautner takes a backseat so quickly I basically assumed he had given up his position off-screen at some point.
It’s heavily implied that Connor resents his father for never being around during his formative years, which is understandable given Payton’s demanding career. There’s a compelling film buried underneath Home Team, and it’s either about a father trying to make amends with his distant family or about a publicly disgraced man trying to wrestle with the harm he’s done.
Regarding the former topic, those chances go out the window as soon as Gary Valentine’s coach Bizone, a bumbling doofus that exists purely for comic relief, is introduced, and it never gets better from there. Regarding the latter, the film never even hints at investigating Payton’s guilt or his role in Bountygate. In fact, the film features a late scene wherein Connor interrogates his father over his responsibility in the scandal, and it’s shrugged off and never mentioned again. The film actually manages to hint at Payton’s inability to cede control over the team and his laser-like focus on winning at the cost of the kids’ well-being, but that’s quickly undercut by a “comedic” scene featuring the entire team repeatedly projectile-vomiting in the waning minutes of a game.
The NFL is notorious for protecting its wholesome, true-blue American image, so you had to know the film would let the league off the hook from the outset. Indeed, maybe if Home Team were made by a production company with a spine and not by one with a sports-crazed CEO like Adam Sandler, the results could have been much different. Instead, what we’re left with is a cookie-cutter sports underdog film that Happy Madison has made several different times and before this one, though this time it features some less problematic material.
Yes, the Happy Madison regulars are out in force this time around, including Jackie Sandler as Payton’s ex-wife and Rob Schneider as her new husband, the same holistic-weirdo type that has been a staple throughout most of the Happy Madison filmography. Lautner, making his first film appearance altogether since 2016, does fine with the limited material he’s given, although in the second half of the film his role is basically reduced to looking concerned. Jared Sandler also returns as the incompetent desk clerk at the hotel Payton stays at, another bit of unnecessary comedy.
In spite of it all, I don’t think Home Team belongs at the bottom of Happy Madison’s filmography or even among its Netflix offerings. There are very few, if any, elements that work successfully, namely the comedy, the sports philosophy or the ripped-from-the-headlines verisimilitude — not to mention the sleepy performances from everyone that’s already hit puberty. Sean Payton’s story would indeed make for an interesting film, but it unquestionably shouldn’t have been made by Happy Madison. Consider the film’s weirdly generic title as an example of its misguided intentions; a quick bit of research reveals it shares a name with Payton’s autobiography, which was released in 2010 … before any of the events of the film take place.
- “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Good on HM for casting Isaiah Mustafa (most commonly known as the guy from the classic Old Spice commercials) as the rival coach. But who I really wanted to spend more time with is Dana Goodman as Brooke’s mom, introduced as tossing some popcorn to herself and repeatedly missing.
- Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: When I’m elected President, color commentators in sports movies will be illegal. Not that this is exclusive to Happy Madison, or Home Team, but the film goes a step further to include Tracy Wolfson (a sideline reporter for CBS in real life) as a reporter covering pee-wee football for a local news station.
- Fart Joke Counter: A clean entry but there is the aforementioned vomit scene.
- The Walkout Test: This one’s an easy pass.
- NEXT TIME: The next production on Happy Madison’s slate will be another sports-focused film starring Adam Sandler, Hustle, although no release date has been announced yet.