Control Nathan Rabin #2 The Do-Over
For the second installment in Control Nathan Rabin, where I let this site’s Patreon donors choose my torment, I gave you folks a choice between a pair of Adam Sander straight-to-Netflix comedies: the recently released show-business comedy Sandy Wexler (which was actually inspired by the life of Sandler’s manager Sandy Wernick, who coincidentally also Executive-Produced my poorly-rated, mildly disreputable basic-cable panel show Movie Club With John Ridley) and the David Spade/Adam Sandler mismatched buddy action-comedy The Do-Over.
I was a little surprised that readers chose The Do-Over because of the three films Sandler has suckered Netflix into paying for and then streaming, The Do-Over has the lowest public profile. The Ridiculous Six had the novelty of being Sandler’s maiden foray into direct-to-streaming and his first Western. God knows critics and the show-business press find show business infinitely more compelling than the public does, which helps explain why Sandy Wexler has gotten a fair amount of attention despite skipping the theaters.
Those movies weren’t exactly zeitgeist-capturing blockbusters, but they made an impact in a way The Do-Over did not and for good reason. The Do-Over is substantially different than many of Sandler’s late-period films. The pacing is almost perversely slow and meandering and the tone is oddly sad and curdled.
The movie reminded me of Touchstone movies like Captain Ron or Outrageous Fortune but with the bright colors, snappy editing and busy pop soundtrack replaced by a weirdly muted visual scheme, weirdly poky pacing and a strangely reserved score and soundtrack. But, like pretty much all of Sandler’s late-period vehicles, yes, even The Cobbler, the movie is absolutely dreadful.
The Do-Over opens in a vat of pit of male sadness with the introduction of sad-sack bank manager Charlie McMillan, who David Spade plays as a tragicomic little man who seems to be permanently cos-playing Ned Flanders with his sad little mustache and a hairstyle and wardrobe that both seem to hearken back to a rundown Sears department store in the late 1980s.
Charlie has kids and a wife but since this is an Adam Sandler movie, both are nightmares. So when our nebbishy narrator runs into his wild-card old pal Max Kessler (Adam Sandler) at a high school reunion, his miserable existence briefly becomes bearable, even exciting. Sandler once again embodies what Happy Madison movies see as the liberating and empowering spark of vulgarity.
Max doesn’t want their good times to end or for his pal to go back to his sad old life so he does him the questionable service of faking his death (in addition to his own) so that these two men can go on vacation with 62,000 dollars in ill-gotten gains. The Do-Over is never funny but at the beginning at least it captures something oddly poignant about its character’s lives of quiet desperation.
In its first act, The Do-Over calls upon Spade to play something other than smugness personified or a hillbilly goof. It turns out Spade is actually far more compelling when he’s acting rather resorting to the useful crutch of smarmy shtick. If The Do-Over cared about its characters on any level, this might have been a revelatory performance for Spade but The Do-Over can only resist the siren song of jokes involving heterosexual men’s discomfort with homosexual men and sex acts traditionally associated with gay sex for so long. Sandler may be our preeminent mirth-maker and greatest artist but he is, in the end, only human .
The Do-Over marks an important milestone in the evolving treatment of women in Sandler’s films. Sandler seems to have taken the title to heart and completely re-imagined the role women play in his cinematic oeuvre. The female characters here represent a broad cross section of women who are empowered and strong, yet funny and vibrant. It’s a movie full of multi-dimensional women with intense, complicated inner lives that do not revolve around men, even the leads.
Nah, I’m just fucking with you! If anything, The Do-Over manages to be even more sourly misogynistic and hateful towards women than most of Sandler’s movies. The film overflows with contempt for sexually aggressive women, like Spade’s oversexed ex Nikki (Natasha Leggero), who we see pegging her ex in a scene that combines the film’s lovingly curated gay panic with a conception of female sexual aggression as freaky and creepy and wrong.
Astonishingly (or not, as this is an Adam Sandler movie) or not, this is not the only time the film combines glib misogyny about women with libidos with sweaty, clammy gay panic. Max promises to get Charlie involved in his first threesome with a horny, hot-to-trot bombshell Dawn Defazio (Jag’s Catherine Bell) but rather than experience the guilty delight of sex with two women (that would be the sexy version) he finds himself in a threesome with Dawn and a bar employee played by Luis Guzman, who really does not like the way that Charlie is looking at him during their uncomfortable menage a trois.
Is that the end of the sexism and gay panic? Oh god no. The Do-Over doesn’t just have the occasional gay panic joke. It has entire subplots rooted in gay panic, as well as long, involved gay panic set-pieces like one towards the end of the movie when a sinister, effete Eurotrash villain known only as “The Gymnast” lovingly prepares to shove something blunt and large and painful up Max’s rectum and Max tries to convince his tormentor that this anal invasion is evidence of his clear-cut homosexuality rather than a form of torture.
At another point in their journey, Max and Charlie discover that the dead men whose identities they have stolen were gay lovers, despite one being a tough-ass biker. This leads to a major subplot involving a beefy, hyper-masculine biker being an enthusiastic homosexual who would like nothing more than to make sweet, sweet love to Sandler’s character.
To give Sandler and his collaborators credit, there is a wide variety of gay panic jokes here, from the plot hinging on Spade’s character saving the day by smartly shoving something useful up his own ass to the strange, quasi-progressive moment when Sandler’s Max promises to give the gay biker something to masturbate to by lovingly pantomiming what it would look like if he was blowing a bunch of dudes at the same time.
I don’t know if it’s a sign of artistic growth that Sandler is now comfortable enough in his sexuality that he can mime sucking off a bunch of dudes for the explicit erotic delight of a gay man but you have to at least give Sandler credit: the 437th or so gay panic joke in his filmography is markedly different than the first couple hundred gay panic jokes.
The Do-Over climaxes with an extended cat-fight set to Madonna’s swooning ballad “Crazy For You” (which of course began life as the non-ironic love theme to the Matthew Modine wrestling coming of age movie Vision Quest) between Max’s oversexed, crazily aggressive soulmate (Kathryn Hahn as Becca) and the film’s female lead, a widow of the man whose identity Spade’s character stole played by Paula Patton, who really is too gorgeous and too charismatic to waste her time as the thankless female lead and then the even more thankless secret villain. Oh shit, did I give away a plot twist to The Do-Over? I may have, but, honestly, who cares?
The climactic cat-fight is filmed lovingly in slow-motion, more like a sex scene that leaves bruises than a conventional fight. There’s something funky and subversive, in theory, about making a fight feel like fucking but The Do-Over is such a nasty piece of work that it just ends up feeling like it’s getting off on sexy women destroying each other’s bodies for the sake of the male gaze both in the film (needless to say, our loser heroes are super turned on) and in the audience.
For a famously likable man and a consummate mensch, Adam Sandler sure does make a lot of hateful, profoundly mean-spirited movies. Like his characters, Sandler stubbornly refuses to grow up, and his films, and his audience, pay an increasingly steep price for his dogged insistence on forever remaining a smutty snarky 14-year-old inside.
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