By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
After garnering a bushel of positive critical notices less than two months ago for his work in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler now squanders his newfound respectability with another one of his cookie-cutter "lovable loser" vehicles, Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights. Only two elements set this apart from Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison and Big Daddy: First of all, it's animated; and secondly, this allows the star to play three major characters.
The eight wacky nights referenced in the title are, amazingly enough, the eight nights of Hanukkah. Now, in comparison to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of films centering on, or set against, Christmas, there are more or less no films about Hanukkah. (The IMDb has never even heard of the word.) While it's nice to see this strange oversight remedied, it's also hard to imagine that the rabbis of America will deem Eight Crazy Nights an auspicious start. More farts than candles get lit in this one.
The protagonist (voiced by Sandler, natch) is Davey Stone, a bitter, small-town ne'er-do-well, who lives alone in a tacky trailer. On the first night of Hanukkah, Davey gets drunk, gets rowdy, and gets busted. The exasperated local judge (Norm Crosby) sentences him to help out doddering basketball coach Whitey Duvall (Sandler again); if he screws up, he's off to the slammer for 10 years. (A bit stiff for a couple of counts of vandalism and petty larceny.)
Whitey is a pathetic old codger: We're told that he's four feet tall (though he looks about a third of Stone's height); his feet are so vastly different in size that he walks with a lopsided waddle; and his exceedingly generous, childlike nature has only served to make him the town laughingstock. Worse yet, poor ol' Whitey lives with his equally grotesque twin sister, Eleanore (Sandler yet again), a bald, paranoid virgin. Whitey's one great dream in life is to win the Patch, an annual award for meritorious service to the community.
Also in the picture is Jennifer (Jackie Titone), Davey's childhood girlfriend, who, having recently been abandoned by her husband, has returned to town with her son Benjamin (Austin Stout). Even Madame Cleo could predict that Davey will bond with the kid, win back Jennifer, confront the past traumas that have made him so misanthropic, and help Whitey fulfill his modest ambition.
Eight Crazy Nights has a PG-13 rating, rare for an animated feature, but fully deserved (at a minimum). Even more than in Sandler's live-action features, the filmmakers -- director Seth Kearsley and a quartet of writers including Sandler, musician Brooks Arthur, Brad Isaacs and frequent Sandler collaborator Allen Covert -- seem to think that the only thing funnier than a fart joke is two fart jokes. Or maybe a dozen fart jokes. Plus a raft of shit, piss, tit and dick jokes. Like the Maccabees, Sandler -- armed with enough wit for only one bodily excretion gag -- somehow stretches it out for a whole film of bodily excretion gags.
Oops. Almost forgot the fat-guy jokes, dialect jokes and physical-deformity jokes. Lots of those as well.
There is nothing inherently wrong with these varieties of bad-taste humor. But nor are these elements, in and of themselves, so uproariously funny. South Park -- along with Beavis and Butt-head, the likeliest referent for Eight Crazy Nights -- goes much further on the bad-taste scale than Sandler could dream of, but does so with actual humor and inventiveness, areas in which Sandler's film falls woefully short.
Then there's the issue of product placements. Perhaps no money changed hands -- there are no acknowledgments in the closing credits -- but it's hard to imagine that there were no quid pro quos involved in the sequence where the store logos at the local mall come to life, representing See's Candy, GNC Nutrition, Victoria's Secret, Sharper Image and a bunch of other actual brand-name franchise favorites. It's actually one of the funnier scenes in the film, but the spot-on commercialism smells rancid nonetheless.
Sandler's voice work as Davey -- who is drawn in Sandler's image -- is perfectly adequate. But the voices of Whitey and Eleanore are another issue. Whitey -- who looks like Elmer Fudd, aged 70, in some Warner Bros. flash-forward -- is so squeaky and shrill that he grows grating within about 20 seconds. Eleanore is almost as bad; and Sandler gives her an exaggerated Jewish yenta inflection (although the character is supposed to be Gentile).
If there's any redeeming element in this frequently painful hash, it's the songs. (Have we mentioned that Eight Crazy Nights is a musical?) Sandler's greatest talent has always been for clever lyrics, and the eight or nine examples here -- co-written with Arthur, Isaacs, Covert, Robert Smigel, Steven Brill and (in the case of "The Chanukah Song, Part 3," which plays over the closing credits) five others -- have more humor than the rest of the film put together. "Technical Foul," in particular, benefits from a musically ingenious trio climax. Still, nothing here approaches the brilliance of the songs Trey Parker (sometimes with Matt Stone or Marc Shaiman) has turned out for South Park on both TV and the big screen.
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