Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:30 - Released 11/6/98

Adam Sandler, veteran of NBC's Saturday Night Live, has begun a fairly successful career based on his propensity for extreme silliness. This is a perfectly honorable method, practiced before by many others like Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Jim Carrey. But if Sandler doesn't begin to grow a bit, as those actors have, he may get stuck in an embarrassing rut. Being a class clown is one thing, but after you've hit 30, it just begins to look dumb. And that's his problem here.

In The Waterboy, Sandler has reassembled the successful team from last year's The Wedding Singer: co-writer Tim Herlihy and director Frank Coraci. They have turned out an adequate script and cast it with adequate actors. But Sandler's character is almost too silly for the film. Maybe the fault is Coraci's, who directed everyone else but left Sandler to his own devices.

The Waterboy is based in southern Louisiana. Sandler's character, Bobby Boucher (pronounced "Boo-shay"), is a simple-minded 31 year old cajun with a passion for "high-quality H2O." After he is fired from a large Louisiana university football team by its coach, Red (Jerry Reed), Bobby seeks employment at a smaller college's team, under Coach Klein (Henry Winkler). Klein's Mud Dogs are the losingest team in Louisiana history, but signing Bobby on as waterboy turns out to be the smartest move he's ever made.

Bobby lives in a bayou shack with his overprotective Mama (Kathy Bates), and dreams of marrying the comely but delinquent Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk). He puts up with abuse from all the football players, except when they make fun of his Mama or tamper with his water. If this happens, he goes into an uncontrollable rage, tackling the offending person to the ground. When Coach Klein sees this talent, he recruits Bobby as a defensive back, and a winning season is born. The team makes it all the way to the "Bourbon Bowl," where it competes with Red's team to predictable results. At this point, cameo appearances are made by several pro football players and commentators.

Though it turned out better than I expected, The Waterboy suffers from a conflict of vision on the part of its producers. Sandler, with his broad style, handles it like an exaggerated character study, but Coraci's direction is that of a feel-good film. Most of the other characters are at least slightly believable and the plot is surprisingly tight; the story moves along with much more coherence than Bobby Boucher does. The ending is light and satisfying, but there's Sandler, still stuck in this SNL caricature he has created. It's not often that you have a movie whose star is its worst actor.

Sandler proved last year that he can be believable as a real person, but if he insists on playing overblown caricatures, he may not get many more chances. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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