Overview: Two older loser friends fake their own deaths to start over at life. Netflix; 2016; 108 Minutes; Not Rated.
Historical Context: About 30 minutes into The Do-Over, it dawned on me that neither Adam Sandler nor any representatives of his Happy Madison production team ever had to answer for the company’s involvement in two major controversies last year (those being the walkout of Native American cast members over their unhappiness with racist jokes on the set of The Ridiculous 6 and the sharing of sexist requirements requested of a casting call for an unnamed Sandler film). After that realization, it became difficult to think about and review The Do-Over in a vacuum. Standing as the latest major Netflix release starring Adam Sandler and his Saturday Night Live and Grown Ups co-hort David Spade, the entire production is so insidious in attitudes distinctly related to those aforementioned controversial topics that one has to wonder if Sandler and Director Steven Brill want the movie to be measured outside of those previous events. There’s something rotten about The Do-Over. Not something rotten in the Rotten Tomatoes sense– at this point a critical conglomerate rotten status is a foregone conclusion for any Happy Madison product– but something rotten in the sense that the film comes from a place of festering, hateful, smelly, industry-supported rot.
Unchecked Aggression: There’s a reveal scene in the middle of The Do-Over wherein Max (Sandler) saves his schluppy nerd friend’s life by pulling him out of a pool and kicking ass in a shootout like a Big Lots version of Jason Bourne. It’s kind of cool, or at least cool enough to make me wish that the movie had wanted to be that, a sort of half-satire comedic secret agent film with a few jabs taken at the mundanity of middle class, white existence. And it’s played perfectly straight, which means, in the grand scheme of things, it plays like another instance of male cinematic fantasy gifting Sandler a solid action sequence to include in an inevitable career retrospective montage. But later there’s a scene in which two women engage in similar combat, and instead of allowing that scene the same cinematic respect, this scene is arranged so that the fight becomes a means of entertaining Max and his friend Charlie (Spade). The two men pat shoulders to communicate their juvenile enjoyment of the girl-on-girl violence while one of their wives has her body thrown through glass and violently smashed against a wall. There’s no desire exhibited by either character or the movie to interrupt the attack, or to protect either woman. Because both of these men and their movie hate women. Outwardly, openly, and without shame. One doesn’t need to compare a second and third act scene to understand this.
The movie opens with a voiceover from Charlie and three seconds in, he is defining his high school experience by the attention he did not receive from women. Seconds later, Max introduces himself as “Maxi-Pad” (a nickname that is never explained or thoroughly revisited) and reminisces with his old friend about being creepy teenage voyeurs watching a woman shower. Their first conversation is about Charlie’s wife Nikki (Natasha Leggero), who is immediately characterized as crazy, sexually loose, and romantically unfaithful. Spoiler: after that, every single female character in this film is at least two of those things and shamed for it, including Max’s sweet mother who never gets a name but is played by Renée Taylor and his caring wife Becca played by Kathryn Hahn. Later, on a boat, two young woman answer Max and Charlie’s request to see their breasts and, when they ask for the favor to be returned and laugh at Charlie’s pant-dropping revelation, Max fires a flare gun directly at them for a laugh.
Women are ran over by Winnebagos, punched in the stomach, held at gunpoint, always as part of some sneering joke. When a late twist exposes that a woman is the mastermind behind the generic evil scheme, the script makes sure she explains that she tricked the men using her cleavage and sex, lest we think that, god forbid, a man was straight up outsmarted. Women are the reason these failed men want to start over, they are the reason it doesn’t work, and they are the biggest obstacle in every other chapter of conflict. Barely a minute passes without the movie or one of its characters taking a shot at a woman just because she is a woman. In the longest stretches between unchecked sexism, we get introduced to a community in Puerto Rico that has the same Caucasian-heavy ethnic makeup as a Wisconsin suburb, where Luis Guzman, the only Puerto Rican cast-member playing a character with a name (and that name, according to IMDb, is Jorge the Shooter Boy) , is propped up to allow jokes built on Charlie’s panicked homophobia. The central boy heroes, on the other hand, end up curing cancer. Literally. I swear to God. It’s that gross.
The Larger Problem: Many have criticized Sandler’s films for being transparent vacation opportunities for he and his comedy friends, their production costing little more than a handful of travel agency getaway packages, a rented sports car, and a few called-in cameo favors. I have never been able to get upset over this aspect (or at least I tried and just felt like my anger boiled down to needless jealousy), but there is a larger problem created by it. Sandler’s movies are relativity cheap, so they also always end up being distinctly profitable. Combine that with the group’s apparent acceptance of critical failure and Sandler’s unprecedented new contract with Netflix which allows the actor to release his films on a platform whose metrics of success are somewhat shrouded and abstract, and there exists no quantifiable way to hold these films accountable for their material. Sandler, who we know can be used as an enjoyable comedic presence when serving the vision of better comedic filmmakers, now has more creative control than ever and he’s using it to be the worst version of his worst self, to actively and aggressively not apologize for the things which he probably should apologize for and stop doing.
Overall: If this sort of dumb, hate-filled material is ever going to be put in its place (and its place is non-existence) it is going to require a moral and ethical policing on the behalf of its distributor, and Netflix as a company should be ashamed that it did not start that policing prior to the release of The Do-Over.