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Probably the most overused and abused backhanded compliment in entertainment criticism is "it's good for what it is," typically used as a synonym for "the person reviewing this liked it, but knows they are supposed to be above it." It's practically a reflex - I've likely done it myself many times. It really is kind of a cop-out, allowing one to credit the individual movie/game/book/whatever while simultaneously affirming that you still loathe what it "is" or "stands for," all without the danger of audience alienation that might result from "if you like that sort of thing."
And yet, sitting and watching a screening of That's My Boy, the newest offering from Adam Sandler, "good for what it is" was really the only phrase I could conjure to describe it. It's a vile, puerile, lowbrow, totally disposable junk movie, but I can't deny that it works as one. I can't say that I didn't laugh, and while it's up for debate whether or not these jokes needed to be told or if the world is worse off for their telling, the mechanics of the humor are sound - no small feat, considering that the tone of the thing can be neatly summarized by telling you that one of the principle supporting characters is Vanilla Ice playing himself.
By now, I imagine it's roundly understood that Sandler - like Will Smith - is a movie star who appears to approach his career more as a business venture than the exercising of a craft (fittingly, neither man was ever an actor first - Smith is a musician and Sandler a stand-up comic) and that he works in two distinct brands of filmmaking: Movies Where Adam Sandler Appears (higher-end "dramedy" fare like Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People) and Adam Sandler Movies. This second group lately feels very much like make-work projects designed less to enrich the comfortably wealthy Sandler than to provide job security to Sandler's ever-growing roster of less bankable comedian/comedy writer friends and Hollywood cash infusions to the New England-area communities he often insists on using for filming locations. (If nothing else, you can't say he's forgotten where he came from.) That's My Boy is clearly the latter variety - a broad, proudly sleazeball comedy with a huge supporting cast shot mostly in and around Boston and Cape Cod.
The premise? As a 13 year-old, Donny Berger (Sandler) was seduced by his sexy (adult) math teacher. When their affair was discovered, said teacher went to jail for statutory rape while Donny became an instant tabloid media superstar, cheered as a kind of fantasy living stud-in-training (this is as close as a Sandler movie has ever come to insightful cultura satire) and briefly wealthy from selling his story (his autobiography was called "Head In The Class.") He was also given custody of the son that resulted from the affair, and since teenaged tabloid celeb Sandler was about as good at parenting and money management as you'd expect, the present-day middle-aged Donny is a broke burnout who hasn't seen his son, Han Solo (heh) since he bolted at 18.
Facing jail time for tax evasion ("I thought they were taking it out automatically!") Donny's last hope is a big payday promised by a sleazy TV host if he can arrange a televised reunion between himself, Han and Han's still-imprisoned mother. Conveniently, he's also just discovered that Han (Andy Samberg) - having changed his name to Todd Peterson and invented a phony backstory for himself - is now a rising star businessman currently residing at his boss's swanky Cape Cod mansion and about to marry his too-perfect-by-half fiancée (Leighton Meester).
So, yeah, it's another "Oh, no, my uncouth/boorish jerk buddy just showed up in my fancy/straight-arrow new life!" comedy, kicked up with the twist of the buddy secretly being the straight man's father - a fact that would make things bad enough even if Donny wasn't a lecherous, perpetually intoxicated creep. Which he is. This shtick hasn't really changed throughout the decades, and the movie you're imagining in your head is pretty much the movie they've made. Ho HO! Everyone is wearing fancy dress clothes but Donny wears a tie with his t-shirt! HAH! But it's okay because shockingly everyone but Todd thinks he's endearing and fun! LOL! The fancy men went to a spa and Donny thought it was a brothel! Old ladies talking dirty? Check. Nasty strip club with one "hilariously" overweight performer? You betcha. Fat people falling over? Blow-to-the-head humor? Sandler doing the whole movie in some kind of unplaceable speech impediment? All present and accounted for.