There are essentially two types of Adam Sandler movies, though they sometimes come in varying shades. On the left side are the more casual, laissez-faire affairs, wherein the popular comedic actor/producer plays an exaggerated variation of his real-life, good-hearted slacker persona. Some of them are charming enough (“Billy Madison,” “The Wedding Singer,” “50 First Dates“), some are mixed (“Big Daddy,” “Spanglish“), and a few are, err, curious failures (“Eight Crazy Nights,” “Click,” “The Cobbler“), but the rest stink of cash-grabbing laziness (the “Grown Ups” movies, “Just Go With It,” “Blended“). On the right side, however, are Sandler’s character comedies, where Sandler decides (if often wrongheadedly) to commit to one outlandish voice/personality for one entire film. Yes, “Punch-Drunk Love” is unequivocally among the most brilliant, subversive films of the early ’00s, but that’s a Paul Thomas Anderson movie; another beast entirely. The rest of his personal oeuvre, from “Little Nicky” to “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” to the truly horrendous “Jack and Jill” and “That’s My Boy,” test every ounce of goodwill you might still (foolishly) hold for the former “SNL” standout.
“Sandy Wexler,” Sandler’s third Netflix original movie, is strictly on the right side of this equation.
Inspired by Sandler’s actual longtime manager, “Sandy Wexler” sees Sandler as the dorky, high-waisted pants-wearing, pocket pager-accessorizing titular character, a hapless, if delusionally persistent, low-level manager who truly believes his clients are worthy of greatness, whether they’re an unlucky, long-haired Evel Knievel wannabe (Nick Swardson) or a talented, if corny, ventriloquist (Kevin James). But he’s also a pathological liar, to the point that his loud, clapping laughs are fake even when they’re sincere. Scavenging through 1994 L.A. with no clear signs of success, the middle-aged Wexler is near the bottom of his already-unremarkable career. He’ll need a miracle if he’s going to find any triumphs whatsoever. Thankfully, Sandy finds that miracle with Courtney Clarke (Jennifer Hudson), a raw, undiscovered talent with an incredible voice stuck singing as the Ugly Duckling at the local amusement park. She’s a star in the making, even if the perpetually flailing Sandy Wexler is the one who’ll bring that fame and fortune. Together, they’re an unlikely team, especially when Courtney finds success beyond her wildest dreams.
Credit needs to be given where it’s due: where other Happy Madison productions often tend to indulge themselves in crude, unwarranted gags directed at women, minorities and anyone who isn’t Adam Sandler, “Sandy Wexler” is, in its own weird way, sorta sweet and moderately harmless. Clearly fueled by a subject Sandler and his crew truly care about, no matter what their individual flaws and oddities might be, this newest Sandler vehicle is inspired and warm-hearted where his other recent movies are lazy and soulless. Does that make it a winning success? Hell no, but it’s good to see Sandler put his heart into his work again.
Unfortunately, Sandler might’ve cared a bit too much. As if stricken by a bad case of Judd Apatow-itis, who makes a cameo along with a quarter of Hollywood, “Sandy Wexler” clocks in at an ungodly 131 minutes. Granted, that’s not Sandler’s longest film; that honor belongs to Apatow’s own, underappreciated “Funny People,” which came in at an overcooked 146 minutes. But there’s no good day in hell where an “regular” Adam Sandler movie deserves to be longer than 100 minutes — if that. “Sandy Wexler” is certainly no exception. Despite the added pathos given to Sandler’s nasally, contradicting protagonist, sitting with this lead character for over 15 minutes is a struggle. Having to endure (and meant to endear to) him for over two hours leaves you numb and nullified. It becomes a parade of indulgence, a test of your will to see if you can sit through it all. I can say I passed, but I’m not sure if that’s worth celebrating in any reasonable manner.
“Sandy Wexler” plays like a second cut that’s commissioned by the producers and director before they sat down and trimmed it down 40 minutes to its actual, reasonable running time. Director Steve Brill (“The Do-Over“) uses Netflix‘s free-form platform to let his own movie run wild away from his provision, provoking the bagginess of the shapeless script, written by Sandler, Dan Bulla and Paul Sado, and refusing to allow “Sandy Wexler” to have any semblance of pacing or flow. This movie merely lingers, letting us spend an unorthodox amount of time with this wacky character with fleeting care. If Wexler’s outspoken personality was going to be annoying in an 85-minute movie, imagine what it’s like to watch him in something that’s closer to the length of “Logan.” This is one of those blessed moments where I’m glad it’s premiering exclusively on Netflix; at least I have access to the pause button this time around.
Maybe if “Sandy Wexler” were more consistent, it’d be more approachable or appealing. But its scattershot execution makes Sandler’s latest film lack any consistency, with jokes ranging from childish to obscene at any given moment. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as disgusting or foul as Brill/Sandler’s last Netflix joint, but it does make you long for its curtness. Like its main character, “Sandy Wexler” rambles with no clear objective, and even with its inclusive message of acceptance and tolerance, it’s hard to warm up to its unexpected cuddliness when it’s so exhaustingly, insistently aimless. This isn’t “Toni Erdmann.” There’s nothing truly subversive, intriguing, charming or engrossing about Sandy Wexler or his clumsy antics.
While it’s nice to see Sandler attempt something that doesn’t come across shallow or half-hearted for once, “Sandy Wexler” is both too unrestraint and half-prepared for come together with any effectiveness. Oddly enough, it might also be a little too specific. Watching “Sandy Wexler” is like sitting in an extended lunch with Sandler and his famous pals, particularly as they all laugh, reminisce and generally yap it up about an unseen man you’ll likely never meet. It’s fun for them, sure, but it’s alienating and uninvolving for us. You’re left puzzled and unable to participate in the enjoyment shared around the table. And though it’s nice to see something slightly more friendly and agreeable from Happy Madison, it’s weirdly when “Sandy Wexler” is at its cruelest that it’s also at it’s funniest. The film’s limited laughs belong to an unfortunate raccoon splattered by a baseball bat or a suicidal children’s performer and his equally troubled assistants. Much more so than Wexler and his inane mumbles, at least. Like the character that shares its name, “Sandy Wexler” means better than his peers, but it needs better management if it’s going to work. [C-]