Adam Sandler is the new Frank Sinatra. Look at that sentence for a minute. Take it in. There are Hitchcock films less disquieting. Well, strap yourself in; the ride is about to get wilder. Not only is Sandler the new Sinatra, he and cohorts David Spade, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and Chris Rock, I contend, are the contemporary correlative of the Rat Pack.
It’s not that far-fetched a cultural observation. Each new generation gets its own, more or less. History’s first recorded example, in fact, predates Old Blue Eyes. The oldest Rat Pack known to science was led by none other than Humphrey Bogart.
This prehistoric Pack was rounded out by Hollywood legends Rex Harrison, Nat King Cole, Cesar Romero and Errol Flynn — though technically Romero may have forfeited his Hollywood legend status, since he’ll forever be remembered as the Joker from the TV series “Batman.” But I digress. The point is, this was the Rat Pack 1.0.
Sinatra’s reboot featured entertainers who frequently performed in Vegas and partied just as professionally. The core was Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, until Sinatra excommunicated Lawford for mishandling a situation involving President Kennedy. (A similar fate appears to have befallen longtime Sandler sidekick Rob Schneider. More on this shortly.)
Just like Sinatra and his buddies, Sandler and his pals are in the enviable position of having the muscle to do their thing for fun and profit. They routinely cast each other in their films, sharing the wealth along with the laughs, indifferent to the opinion of critics. (Sandler has never gone longer than five years without a Razzie nomination.)
In 1960, Sinatra founded Reprise Records so he and his friends could enjoy greater artistic control and a fatter percentage of profits. In 1999, Sandler founded Happy Madison Productions for the same reasons. There’s a difference between the two when it comes to their acumen as entrepreneurs, however: Sandler is by far the savvier businessman.
His movies may not earn many stars, but they routinely make staggering profits. The first Grown Ups cost $80 million and rang up $271 million. “Ring-a-ding-ding!” as Frank used to say. A typical Happy Madison production, in fact, runs $80 million or less and grosses more than $200 million. The studio produced Paul Blart: Mall Cop for $25 million, making $225 million. This is what’s called laughing all the way to the bank. Sandler may win the occasional Razzie, but he almost never loses money.
Oh, Grown Ups 2. The high school buds have moved back to their Connecticut hometown, so you know what that means. Gags about deer urinating in characters’ faces; gags about James attempting to perfect the “burpsnart” (a burp, sneeze and fart in rapid-fire succession); gags about wives who wish the guys would, um, grow up; and, naturally, Sandler throwing an ’80s-themed bash at which the J. Geils Band provides the tunes. Why not?
Not all are classic moments in cinema. But several — including a car-wash gag I neglected to mention — are a hoot and a half. There’s a definite sense that Grown Ups 2 was probably more fun to make than it is to watch — but, hey, that’s what being a Rat Pack is all about. Life is a party for these people — including frequent Sandler director Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy) and scribes Fred Wolf and Tim Herlihy — and you’re cordially invited.
Unless your name is Rob Schneider. MIA from recent Happy Madison productions, the actor has cited “money issues” as a reason for the Peter Lawford treatment. Apparently he felt he deserved more. Apparently he hasn’t sat through Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.
Critics, it goes without saying, will savage Sandler’s latest, while fans make him even wealthier and more of an industry force. Like the Chairman before him, he has reason for few regrets about doing it his way.