Happy Gilmore (1996)

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To accompany our review of SNL alumnus Mike Myers’ first film “Wayne’s World” a few days ago, here’s an early Adam Sandler vehicle – not early if you take into account the deeply awful “Going Overboard” 7 years previously, but certainly first half of his career.

Happy Gilmore is a wannabe ice hockey player. He loves it, has an insanely powerful slap shot but sucks at everything else, including puck control and, worst of all, skating ability. He tries and fails to make the local team, but as he’s trying and failing doesn’t notice that his girlfriend is about to leave him and his beloved grandmother, who looked after him most of his life, is about to lose her house because she’s not been paying her taxes. One day, he discovers an ability to hit a golf ball an incredible distance with his run-up approach…

As Happy begins his weird journey to be a pro golf player, the wacky characters start piling on thick and fast. Carl Weathers plays the local golf pro who takes Happy under his wing, and he’s been missing a hand since an alligator bit it off years earlier; Christopher McDonald as evil golf pro Shooter McGavin, SNL friend Kevin Nealon as a mystic golf pro; SNL writer and future Triumph The Insult Comic Dog Robert Smigel as an IRS agent; Ben Stiller as a nurse at Grandma’s care home; and Richard “Jaws” Kiel as Happy’s former boss. Plus, virtually unrecognisable under a heavy beard and wild hair is the world’s luckiest man, Allen Covert. He was a classmate and fraternity brother of Sandler’s, and looking at his IMDB page will reveal a career almost entirely spent in Adam Sandler movies, or movies Sandler has some producing credit in. Now, he’s an executive producer at Happy Madison Films and probably earns more in a year than I will my entire life. My closest friend at University went on to become chief of security at a shopping centre – thanks for nothing, Steve!

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There’s plenty to like here. Weathers’ wonderfully rubbish fake hand effect, Nealon’s speeches, Happy’s former jobs montage, the fight with game show host Bob Barker…as long as you really don’t expect much of anything from this film, you’ll have a good time. What is interesting is how convential this film feels compared to what Myers was doing at roughly the same time – it’s a wacky character dropped in a normal situation, not the riot of styles that Myers was giving us with the Wayne’s World and Austin Powers movies. Sandler wasn’t really acting at this point, although he has by all accounts gotten much better at it when he tries.

Even though Sandler would continue to be good for another couple of years (1998’s “The Wedding Singer” is his last unqualified success, I’d say) the first signs of the deeply lazy man he would become are really coming to the fore here. He never changes out of sweats and hockey jerseys for the entire movie (seriously, I don’t think he’s worn anything else for the last 15 years), and gets a stunning girlfriend in future “Modern Family” star Julie Bowen pretty effortlessly, although to be fair he still hadn’t entirely surrounded himself with his friends at this point – Kevin James, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock and David Spade are nowhere to be found.

I bet Adam Sandler is a great guy to work for and with. That people keep coming back to his films indicates something, and him still employing his talentless college friend in a top position at his company is a point definitely in his favour. I bet I’d like him if I met him even. But he’s discovered a routine which works at the box office – his films do not put in a lot of effort, and don’t lose money, often making a very large profit – and that’s pretty much it for his career now. In another five to ten years or so, he’ll probably retire from starring in his own films, hire a few younger potential successors and live in luxury on a tropical island for the rest of his life. I’m not sure how big a comic talent he ever was, but the days of him being genuinely funny are a very long way behind him and will likely never return.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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