Adam Sandler and Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill

The initial moments of Jack and Jill, a new comedy in which Adam Sandler plays twins, filled me with a small measure of hope. The opening montage of twins talking about their relationships was a nice touch. For its first few minutes, Sandler’s drag routine was actually funny. Maybe this wouldn’t be the cavalcade of self-parodying garbage that its trailer seemed to promise.

Alas, poor Sandler, ’twas not to be. After all, this is a Happy Madison production, ensconced in Dennis Dugan land, where once-young comic actors fast approaching middle age still make the same basic movies they were making fifteen years ago. Only now, they movies are worse.

Sandler’s the ring leader of this motley company of thespians, which includes regulars Nick Swardson, Allen Covert and Tim Meadows, as well as stalwart Rob Schneider, who’s credited on IMDb but who I don’t recall actually being in the movie.

Sandler deserves a lot of credit for being loyal to his friends. It’s an admirable trait and a rare one in Hollywood. Somehow, he roped Al Pacino into things this time around, so good on him for that.

But man oh man, why did he think playing cross-gender twins was a good idea? As Jack and Jill Sadelstein, siblings brought together for the holidays, the actor combines his familiar everyman shtick with a drag act that becomes so excruciatingly unpleasant it inspires involuntary shudders and post-traumatic nightmares.

His Jill is a giant ball of close-minded neuroses, unfiltered yapping and unhygienic personal habits. The movie treats her with sneering condescension. Time and again, the screenplay by veteran writer Steve Koren reminds us how repulsive she is, how utterly unattractive and, well, dude-like. She’s a nightmarish, monstrous caricature of a New York Jewish stereotype, the poor man’s Linda Richman with major gas problems and a propensity for “dropping chimichanga bombs.” No man wants her, she complains, and really, we can’t blame them.

There’s not much of a narrative here and only the vaguest outline of a plot. Jill visits Jack and his family, including wife Erin (Katie Holmes) and their two kids, and stays indefinitely. At the same time, ad agency honcho Jack needs Al Pacino (playing a heightened version of himself) to agree to a Dunkin Donuts endorsement. At a Lakers game, Pacino is instantly stricken by Jill, in whom he sees a kindred spirit, the Dulcinea to his Don Quixote, as the movie tells us innumerable times.

So, yes, the entire flick is one long corporate shill for the omnipresent donut chain. Royal Caribbean gets to feel the warm glow of the endorsement spotlight as well. And yes, if you do somehow find your way to this movie, you weren’t dreaming: Al Pacino really does show up to a bar dressed as the Man of La Mancha. He really does do battle with a ceiling fan. He also (spoiler alert, I guess) refers to “Scarface” in a rap about Dunkin Donuts, as if he wanted to make this spectacle even sadder than it already was.

I’ll never understand what could inspire a legend to participate in this dreck. Sandler is by all accounts a nice guy and he’s probably very persuasive, but that doesn’t quite explain this. Yet there the Oscar-winning icon is, tickle torturing the star while Sandler plays Jack dressed in drag and pretending to be Jill.

The movie is so misshapen it’s barely even a movie, but more of a one-joke gag reel filled with walk-ons and other brief appearances from the usual friends of Sandler (John McEnroe, Dan Patrick etc.). It’s a lot of witless lowest common denominator humor combined with excruciatingly broad characterizations, extraordinary condescension and a lazily applied moral that’s completely unearned.

In that sense, Jack and Jill has a lot in common with much of Sandler’s recent output, which has increasingly begun to feel like the work of a man who has stopped trying to make movies worth seeing and started chasing the easy profit. Movies such as the recent Just Go with It and Grown Ups are more slapdash, forced and, well, amateurish than Sandler’s earliest output.

There’s a method to the madness in Billy Madison, for example, with Sandler’s performance an avant garde, performance art rendition of suspended adolescence that carries the movie through its unfocused peaks and valleys.

Now, the joy radiated by the younger, energetic Sandler is gone, leaving only the wreckage and the sad specter of a once top-notch talent desperately clinging to the glory days of yore.

The Upside: There are a few funny moments.

The Downside: The movie is one long example of product placement, with a moronic and condescending story.

On the Side: Watch Sandler’s November 9 appearance on Letterman. It’s way more entertaining than the movie.


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