You know, it’s not all that uncommon for infant children to evidence a fascination with their own feces. This scatological fixation usually occurs somewhere around the age of 18 months. By my reckoning, Adam Sandler is 36 years old, so what’s up with his apparent inability to let go of an obsession he ought to have long ago outgrown?
I recently groused about the now-obligatory flatulence joke in The Santa Clause 2, but that film not only emerges as a worthy successor to Miracle on 34th Street (I mean the real 1947 one) by comparison to in Adam Sandler’s 8 Crazy Nights, but it’s also a rank amateur in the bodily-functions department. There’s more scatological action in 8 Crazy Nights than a proctologist is apt to encounter in an entire career.
When characters aren’t being covered in fecal matter, they’re talking about it. And when they aren’t talking about it, the film finds other “clever” ways to deal with this moving topic. How clever, you ask? Well, let’s see … when our “hero” Davey (voiced by Sandler) shoves his mentor, Whitey (also voiced by Sandler), downhill in a port-a-john, Whitey emerges festooned in brown goo (“I’m covered in human feces!”), only to have Davey freeze him in that state by hosing him down in the dead of winter (“Smell ya’ later, poopsicle!”). Sensing his plight, a herd of deer lick Whitey out of the ice, only to then smile at the camera and reveal … oh, my God … you guessed it. (If you’re wondering, there’s a cleaned-up version of this gag in the film’s trailer — the better to lure in unwary parents with young children for a holiday cartoon.) Later in the film, this same herd of deer (whose dental work never recovers from this indignity) laugh so hard at some gag (it helps to mask the stony silence of the audience) that they evacuate their bowels for our amusement. Do I even need to go into the urine and snot gags in 8 Crazy Nights? I didn’t think so.
Who is this movie for? Certainly it’s not meant for children — and yet I have trouble imaging any adult outside of Sandler’s own sphere being taken with it. It’s sure not for animation fans as it looks for all the world like Saturday-morning cartoons with Hanna-Barbera. The whole thing is sloppily drawn — except for the nonstop product-placement logos of the stores in the film’s mall setting (you can bet the price of admission that every Dunkin’ Donuts and Foot Locker sign is painstakingly perfect and in clear view). The animation is as crude as the jokes. And so on.
Now, as raunchily bad as all this is, the whole thing gets worse when it turns “serious.” The whole idea of the film is the rehabilitation of Davey Stone by the efforts of Whitey and Whitey’s sister, Eleanore (also voiced by Sandler). The idea is both hackneyed and unconvincing. There are few things as grotesque and painful as a movie that dwells on every unpleasantness imaginable, only to turn around at the last minute and turn “heartwarming.” Compounding that problem is the fact that the whole film is so mean-spirited and hateful that it’s impossible not to sense the attempt at being “warm and fuzzy” is just brimming with contempt for the characters and the manipulated audience.
As usual, Sandler has surrounded himself with his cronies — when he isn’t playing all the parts himself, he’s handed them over to his girlfriend and various Saturday Night Live alumni, including, of course, the ubiquitous Rob Schneider. And this, I think, is part of Sandler’s problem. He — and his lesser-light buddies — are so up each other’s backsides that they are completely out of touch with anyone and anything else. When Sandler got himself out of this self-congratulatory circle for Punch-Drunk Love, the results were stunning. The question is whether or not he’s ever going to realize this.