Billy Madison
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Billy Madison

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There are times when a film demands every iota of your attention; each scene builds the plot, one line of dialogue at a time. Then there those films that permit you to entirely disengage your brain, Billy Madison will never be listed in the first category. This is a film that was created for the sole purpose of stringing together a loose collection of gags to fill approximately one and a half hours of time. Now, donít get me wrong, sometimes in this overly fast paced world, work is getting to you, the family is fighting and you just want to return to about ten years of age and laugh at something that as an adult we would have to admit is completely puerile. Psychologists frequently talk about our inner child; sometimes that child wants to laugh at scatological humor. There is an inherent freedom to watching a flick like this, unless, of course, someone else is in the room. The possible exception here would be a bunch of friends over sharing a case of beer and a pizza.

Basically the very loose plot involves Bill (Adam Sandler) a rich young man whose life consists of drinking and lounging around his familyís pool. His father (Darren McGavin) is about to retire and has a great deal of trepidation about leaving his very successful company in Billyís hands. Dear old dad is prone to leave the control to Brad (Bradley Whitford) who naturally represents the evil in this film because he does posses ambition. Billy is accused of drifting through school, the only reason he was able to graduate was dad paid off the schools. Bill response by striking a deal with dad, he will repeat grades one through twelve at the pace of two weeks each. If you havenít disconnected your brain at this point in the film, now is a good time to do so. Forget that there is not a single school district that would allow someone that is ostensibly an adult to take classes with minors. Besides, psychologically, the third graders are far to advanced for our hapless hero. Naturally, Billy falls in love with his third grade teacher Ms. Veronica Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson) now that is somewhat believable, after all havenít most of out there had a crush on ours? The unbelievable aspect is that she would fall for Billy. I guess this was put into the film to give hope to every socially maladapted guy out there.

As with most all of the early Adam Sandler flicks watching them is somewhat an acquired tasted, basically this holds true for most films based on the antics of any Saturday Night Live alumnus, Mike Myers being the notable exception. Like many SNL segments some of the gags here are taken just a little too far. In the scene where Billy is playing dodge ball seeing him loom over his classmates is funny for a minute or so but as the scene goes on it degrades into doge ball carnage as Billy overwhelms his much smaller opponents. There is a few redeeming moments to some of the scenes, moments where Sandler is able to take the comedy just past the point of good taste and then pulls back displaying some actual tender moments of acting. This was the first staring vehicle for Sandler and in some ways it shows. There is a staccato feel to much of the action, the feeling of comic bits strung together.

To his credit Sandler remembers his friends. There are numerous small parts delegated to his fellow SNL cast mates including a very funny bit by the late Chris Farley as a bus driver. Noted character actor Steve Buscemi, who also appeared with Sandler in Airheads, shows that he can handle slap stick comedy with the same professional dedication as the most serious role he ever tackled. Many will think of Bradley Whitford for his serious role on the West Wing but here he is able to put such training and insight into his craft aside. He seems to genuinely relish his villainous character here. Bridgette Wilson continues her career playing the beautiful girl. She is relegated to little more than another reason for Sandlerís character to show off. In one scene she actual has to carry a parasol, now when was the last time that fashion accessory was every realistic?

The film was directed by Tamra Davis. You are probably aware of her work, perhaps just not fully realizing she was the director. For example she started her directorial career with a music video for the Bangles and went on to the Britney Spears flick, Crossroads. Davis also was at the helm for the now cult classic stoner flick, Half Baked. It doesnít seem that Billy Madison required a director; a more accurate job description would be comedian wrangler. It appears that she just stepped in at a certain point and yelled Ďcutí to make sure no one bit took over the entire film. There is little in the way of pacing but then again pacing is required to tell a story and there really is no story line require for this flick. Sandler co-wrote this film with former SNL writer Tim Herlihy. Herlihy also co-authored most of the other Sandler specific flicks such as Little Nicky, Waterboy and The Wedding Singer. As a team they work well together giving you what you expect from a Sandler flick, a lot of physical sight gags and quick one liners.

Universal now provides this movie only as part of an Adam Sandler double feature, packaged with Happy Gilmore. The technical presentation of the movie is well done. The video is anamorphic 1.85:1 which does reflect the original aspect ratio. The Dolby 5.1 audio is a bit underused here. There is also a new DTS track that does supply a lot more in the way of a full sound field. The surround speakers serve only for ambience and a few notable effects. The sub woofer is absent in most scenes. For this double feature release Universal has overcome the lack of extras on the previous release and included a feature commentary by Davis. There are also some 25 minutes of deleted scenes and a blooper reel.  As mentioned this is a good beer and pizza flick so get the double feature, invite some friends over and let your inner child out to play for a little while.

Posted 11/26/04

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