Adam Sandler movies have typically been an acquired taste. However, starting with The Wedding Singer, he has been trying to broaden his appeal. Big Daddy is another film where he attempts to tone down his schtick and widen his audience. Yet, he still hasn’t found the proper mixture of juvenile humor and adult sophistication. Big Daddy speedily falls into a rut, and never reemerges.
Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler) coulda been a contender. He had great potential in law school, and only needed to pass the bar exam. Then a cab ran over his foot, and his life completely changed. The $200,000 he won in the settlement gave him the luxury to be exceedingly lazy. It was a lifestyle he liked. He took a one-day-a-week job as a tollbooth attendant, and has spent the last few years living a life of responsibility-free adolescence.
When his girlfriend, Vanessa (Kristy Swanson) dumps him for a man with a plan, Sonny is determined to win her back. As luck would have it, responsibility just falls right in his lap. Social Services drops off a small kid, Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse), who is apparently the son of Sonny’s out-of-country roomate, Kevin (Jon Stewart). Sonny decides to adopt the kid himself, to show Vanessa that he can be a responsible adult.
However, Sonny soon discovers that child rearing isn’t as easy as he hoped. When Vanessa refuses to accept him back, Sonny discovers himself stuck with the kid. While he practices a unique brand of permissive parenting (letting Julian do whatever he pleases), Sonny attempts to woo a new girlfriend, Layla (Joey Lauren Adams).
The gimmick is simple. The juvenile adult is forced to look after an actual juvenile. And, as might be expected, most of the humor is rather…juvenile. Watching Sandler teach the kid inappropriate behavior is funny the first time around. But the gag quickly wears out its welcome.
How does Big Daddy compare with the rest of the Adam Sandler genre? In truth, it’s a mixed bag. The film has a similar one-joke structure as most of Sandler’s films, however, in this case, the joke isn’t quite up to par. Sandler is playing, for the most part, a “normal” guy, albeit one with a childish attitude. Sandler has gotten most of his mileage from being a child in an adult’s body. But, unlike, say, The Waterboy, Big Daddy is grounded in reality, and that restriction keeps the movie from taking any chances.
Sandler’s penchant for sappiness continues unabated in Big Daddy, unfortunately, his character is never able to earn the sympathy he longs for. For a character supposedly well versed in the law, Sonny Koufax seems to have very little regard for it. After watching him commit several felonies and multiple misdemeanors, it is very hard to root for him in the film’s ultimate will-he-keep-the-kid conclusion.
In its best moments, Big Daddy earns the occasional laugh. However, the gimmick quickly turns repetitive. Instead of an impishly humorous comedy, Big Daddy merely becomes a lesson of “How to Raise a Sociopath”.