The Hits Keep Coming The Waterboy, like much of Adam Sandler's work, appeals to sports fans' basest instincts

November 30, 1998

It is a well-known comedy axiom: Nothing is funnier than the
savage beating of an elderly person. This goes a long way toward
explaining the global appeal of Adam Sandler, whose growing
oeuvre includes the new smash football film The Waterboy, in
which a white-haired college biology professor is pummeled
senseless in his classroom; 1996's hockey-golf movie Happy
Gilmore, in which beloved game-show host Bob Barker is beaten to
within an inch of his life in a celebrity pro-am; and the comedy
album They're All Gonna Laugh at You!, which features such hit
bits as "The Severe Beating of a High School Janitor" and "The
Severe Beating of a High School Science Teacher." Cowardly?
Perhaps. Cowardesque? But of course.

Still, there may be a more persuasive explanation for Sandler's
spectacular success. Perhaps the reason The Waterboy grossed
$100.3 million in the first three weeks since its release, and
why Sandler's fee could rise to $20 million for his next film,
is this: The world is full of sports fans, and Sandler's movies
are sports distilled to their very essence. Waterboy, for
instance, appeals to our basest bleacherite instincts, whether
we admit to them or not. The film, which was savagely beaten in
the pages of this magazine two weeks ago, is little more than a
montage of monster licks applied by the world's most ferocious
linebacker--not all that different from the NFL crunch-course
videos that come free with your paid subscription to SI or the
hockey snuff videos advertised in the back pages of The Hockey
News. Except that the latter have higher production values.

Indeed, Gilmore is about a one-trick Boston Bruin whose slap
shot is so wicked that he kills his own father with an errant
unwinding. Ah, but that Bruin--as Videohound's Golden Movie
Retriever informs us--"translates his slap shot into a
400-[yard] tee shot and joins the pro golf tour." There, in the
span of two sentences, are the only reasons anyone watches
hockey and golf to begin with: epic slappers, the potential for
mayhem, the vicarious thrill of the gargantuan drive. If Bob
Barker gets sucker-punched, so much the better.

Sandler's songs and stand-up act have long had moments of
terrible poignancy for any sports fan: He has sung about the
loneliness of the foreign-born placekicker, about the loneliness
of the Little League rightfielder and about the famous Jewish
athlete. ("O.J. Simpson [is] not a Jew/But guess who is...Rod
Carew.")

Inevitably, the sports world has returned Sandler's embrace. At
least two NFL quarterbacks have now been nicknamed Bobby Boucher
by their teammates, after the title character in The Waterboy.
The film features endless cameos: by Pittsburgh Steelers coach
Bill Cowher, Lawrence Taylor, and ABC and ESPN broadcasters
Brent Musburger and Dan Patrick, among others. Yes, the flick
was made by Disney, which owns ABC and ESPN, proving that even
people are now mere product-placement opportunities, but so
what? Musburger and Pepsi have long been
indistinguishable--syrupy, highly caffeinated, gas-based, oddly
addictive.

But back to our baser instincts. The most vicariously thrilling
moment in The Waterboy for any sports enthusiast has Miami
Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson getting doused with beer at a
football game. If you look closely, your mouth forming a rictus
of disbelief, you will see the beverage bead up on Johnson's
hairdo, suggesting that JJ is not wearing a full can of Final
Net on his noggin, as we have long assumed, but has actually had
his hair Scotchgarded, or Turtle Waxed or in some other way
weatherproofed. As with most superior entertainments, we are
left to shake our heads in wonder and whisper softly, "How do
they do that?"

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO [Drawing of Adam Sandler]

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