The biggest buzz surrounding Pixels after it’s opening weekend isn’t talk of a sequel, or records just around the corner. The only thing anyone can discuss is the possibility that this may be the end for Adam Sandler as a movie star. Not an actor, mind you, (Netflix made sure of that) but Sandler’s time atop the tentpole is probably over after this disastrous opening weekend.
And it should be.
Adam Sandler ran out of ideas for creative, intelligent, soulful comedies at least a decade ago, probably longer. The last comedy I can remember liking of Sandler’s was Mr. Deeds. While it was poorly-received by critics with a 22 percent on the Tomato Meter, audiences generally enjoyed it. I know I did. Sandler’s mantled routine was still effective, and the earnestness of his Deeds character added a layer of charm that has since been weirdly absent from his films. Mr. Deeds was also a box-office success, bringing in $126 million. This was 2002.
That same year, Sandler actually tried his hand at something outside the idiot child comfort zone, starring in Paul Thomas Anderson’s quirky, romantic Punch Drunk Love. Sandler played Barry Egan, a man suffocated by his eight sisters and prone to amusing fits of rage. When he meets Len Leonard (Emily Watson), however, he may have met the only girl who can understand him. Punch Drunk Love was a departure for Sandler, who didn’t once have to use his goofy scream voice to emulate emotions. Filled with idiosyncrasies, and helmed by a brilliant director, the film made it seem like Sandler was working on cultivating a new career for himself.
Since Punch Drunk Love, Sandler’s films have been horrid. I wouldn’t say they’ve been getting increasingly worse, it’s more of an ebb and flow of nonsense. Sandler’s serious side will rear its head from time to time, as in Reign Over Me or Spanglish, but the results are maddeningly middling. Sandler’s turn in Judd Apatow’s Funny People should have been yet another moment of clarity: Sandler plays a man who made millions playing idiots in terrible comedies, only to have an epiphany when diagnosed with cancer. Funny People was an allegory if there ever was one for Sandler’s own career, sans cancer. It should have been a sign from the gods that Sandler could, and should, change the course of his own career.
The following films, with their RT cumulative score included, came after the success of Funny People:
Grown Ups: 10%
Just Go With It: 13%
Jack and Jill: 3%
That’s My Boy: 20%
Hotel Transylvania: 44%
Grown Ups 2: 7%
Men, Women, and Children: 31%
The Cobbler: 10%
And, of course, Pixels, coming in at 18%. I left out films like Paul Blart and Zookeeper where Sandler appeared, and they would do nothing to improve his average. Rather than take a hint from Funny People, Sandler made a point to star in films seemingly worse than the fake films mentioned in Apatow’s picture. The pile of garbage Sandler has thrown at the screen and poor fans is staggering.
Which lends to the question: is there any hope left for Adam Sandler? I don’t think so, because in order to refurbish Sandler’s career, Sandler has to care about it. I don’t think he does. Sure, he’s tried to team up with good directors since his pairing with PTA, but those have been unsuccessful attempts. Sandler seems jaded, out of ideas, and resigned to simply spit out drivel for a paycheck. It’s too bad, because he seems like a generally nice and likable person. More fans and writers are concerned with Sandler’s career trajectory, which resembles the downward swirl of a flushing toilet, than Sandler himself.
I don’t expect Sandler’s Netflix films to be any better than anything that has come along in the last decade. If the news of Native Americans being offended by his upcoming Western farce, Ridiculous Six, are any indication, Sandler and his frat boy co-star crew still isn’t concerned with intelligence in their filmmaking. Perhaps this Netflix deal will keep Sandler out of the multiplexes, and once this four-picture deal runs his course, Sandler will head off to Hawaii with his family; hopefully he won’t use the Hawaii trip as an excuse to churn out another disaster.