His stale-looking R-rated comedy "That's My Boy," due June 15, is a risk at a time when expectations are high and buzz is low.
Adam Sandler might be making the biggest gamble of his career this summer. Even though his films have become increasingly family-friendly in recent years, Sandler's new movie, "That's My Boy," due out June 15, is an ultra-raunchy, R-rated comedy that features Sandler as a beer-guzzling, dope-smoking, deadbeat dad who suddenly shows up to wreak havoc on his strait-laced son's wedding.
Reviews will probably be terrible -- not that it matters, because Sandler's goofball comedy isn't aimed at the cognoscenti. Critics routinely trash Sandler's films; last year, his "Jack and Jill" earned a minuscule 3 (out of a possible 100) at the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregation website.
But after an unparalleled run of success at the box office, chinks are starting to show in Sandler's armor. And unfortunately for the comedian, Sony Pictures -- his home studio where he enjoys carte blanche -- is under financial pressure because of large losses at the parent corporation.
Ten of the past 11 comedies made by Sandler's Happy Madison production company earned at least $100 million in the United States and Sandler's international performance has been impressive. At a time when most studios are cutting back spending on comedies because they rarely do business overseas, Sandler still enjoys robust budgets -- in the $80 million-plus range -- because he has turned himself into a global commodity.
Since 2008's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," nearly every one of his films has made as much overseas as stateside.
Last year, though, the PG-rated "Jack and Jill" made $74 million in the United States, and virtually the same amount overseas. Now comes Sandler playing a mean-spirited loser in an especially crass film that will be off-limits to his youngest fans. "That's My Boy" will be Sandler's first R-rated comedy under his own brand (as opposed to films he's made with prominent directors like Paul Thomas Anderson or Judd Apatow).
"That's My Boy" is being touted as a return to Sandler's mid-1990s roots, but buzz hasn't been good. The film's trailer was met with stony silence when it was screened at a convention for theater owners in Las Vegas last month. The comments about the trailer on YouTube have been withering.
Marketers at rival studios I spoke to seemed skeptical of the film's commercial potential, largely because of the unlikable character Sandler plays. Audiences have repeatedly turned out to see him play lovable losers and knuckleheads.
But when Sandler pushed the envelope, as he did in 2000's "Little Nicky" in which he played the devil's hapless youngest son, fans stayed away in droves, resulting in the biggest flop of his career (and that film wasn't even rated R).
"Playing a bad parent who comes off as a total imbecile is just not very funny," one marketing chief said. "There's just no planet where that's a funny situation. You can play a stoner uncle or a bad teacher, but a mean, neglectful parent? That's a killer."
If "That's My Boy" ends up being another box-office disappointment, it will put a huge amount of stress on the relationship between Sandler and Sony Pictures. With the industry full of rumblings about the studio being on the block, Sony is expected to be entering a new austerity era in terms of movie expenditures. That leaves little wiggle room for Sandler, who takes home roughly $25 million for producing and starring in his films, and according to Vanity Fair is the third-highest-paid star in Hollywood, trailing only Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Sony has been a popular oasis for Hollywood talent, with co-chairman Amy Pascal having forged especially close relationships with such stars and filmmakers as Will Smith, David Fincher, Roland Emmerich and Kevin James (whose hits were made by Sandler's production company). But if the studio starts to crack down on costs, even Sandler wouldn't be spared from a budget squeeze.
It's one thing to make $80 million comedies when the films are bringing in lots of money. But if "That's My Boy" doesn't deliver, it will force Sony essentially to renegotiate the wide latitude Sandler has enjoyed in making his films.