Big Daddy

Perhaps the most appealing thing about Adam Sandler, and the thing that has made him such an unlikely superstar, is his unique mixture of sadism and vulnerability. Like a misbehaving 10-year-old who can pull off a sweet, impish grin at a moment's notice, Sandler possesses an innocence that makes the mean-spiritedness inherent in much of his work surprisingly palatable. Big Daddy takes full advantage of his talent for playing lovable sociopaths, casting him as an irresponsible, underachieving law-school graduate turned part-time toll-booth operator who must take responsibility not only for himself but for a lisping urchin (twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) after the child is literally left at his doorstep. Demographically savvy in its mixture of scatological gags, gentle romantic comedy, and crowd-pleasing sentimentality, Big Daddy is Sandler's best movie, a surprisingly touching and consistent comedy that finds him reaching out to new audiences without abandoning the transgressive meanness that has enlivened his best work. A big part of the film's success is derived from the chemistry between Sandler and the Sprouse twins, who make better foils than the obligatory love interests with whom the actor has been saddled in the past. Of course, Big Daddy features an obligatory love interest of its own—Joey Lauren Adams as a spunky, workaholic lawyer—but the filmmakers wisely keep the focus on the disarmingly tender relationship between Sandler and his two young co-stars. Big Daddy does contain more than its share of female characters defined mainly by their cleavage, as well as jokes that don't really work—in particular, a bracingly unfunny running gag revolving around former Hooters waitress Leslie Mann—but it's still a massive step up from last year's puerile The Waterboy, and a refreshing reminder that Sandler is capable of making a good film.

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