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Friday, 16 June 2017

Netflix and Adam Sandler

There was an almighty hoo-hah at the recent Cannes Festival over two Netflix-financed films being allowed into competition. While there is a valid argument that only movies granted cinema release should be considered for the top gongs -- whether in France or elsewhere -- this is ignoring current trends. Streaming services are prepared to finance various projects which the major studios reject as 'non-commercial' and a number of interesting movies, few given even a token cinema release, have managed to see the light of day, like the recent Oscar-winner "Moonlight", financed by Amazon. For this we should be grateful.

I have a lot of time for Netflix, not so much for their original series -- I've watched neither "Orange is the New Black" nor "House of Cards" (I'm too fond of the original), but for making available a long list of recent releases which have not yet surfaced on either satellite or terrestrial channels. I've watched several dozen such films over the last year including "Force Majeure", "Brooklyn", "Still Alice", and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople", to name but a few not yet available elsewhere, with many more saved to view. And I've enjoyed three of their original series: "Stranger Things", "OA" (although I found it over-hyped), and "The Santa Clarita Diet" (a hoot).

However it was their backing of the most recent Adam Sandler movie "The Meyerwitz Stories" that raised the Cannes' eyebrows. Adam Sandler is the polar opposite of the serious cineaste's idea of a leading man, despite his huge popular success over the last few decades. Personally I never much liked any of his films, with the exception of 2002's "Punch-drunk Love" where he was in serious mode, but I can understand his mass appeal. While his popularity may well be on the wane, it is fascinating to note that his last four films have all been made for Netflix, who have a world-wide audience in the multi-millions, ensuring that they will be seen by many more people than most cinema releases.

Thus it was, a few days back, wanting some light relief from a recent run of arty grim-fest films, that we watched Sandler's "The Ridiculous Six" (2015). This proved silly, goofy, mindless fun. Here he plays remarkably against type as a white man raised by Native Americans after his mother is killed, who has morphed into a nimble, ninja-like, fast-moving tracker -- totally unbelievable of course, but this is a farce after all. When he is contacted by his long-lost father, Nick Nolte, and sees him abducted by a fierce lot of outlaws led by Danny Trejo, he resolves to find the $50000 that will save his daddy's ass. Along the way he encounters five previously unknown half-siblings from Nolte's various liaisons, and the motley crew become the non-Magnificent bunch of the title.

The five are made up of Sandler's pet actor Rob Schneider (Happy Madison Productions usually finds work for this oft-annoying 'comic') playing a Mexican with a donkey sidekick, Terry Crews (an ex-footballer in films since 2000) -- black as the ace of spades who 'reveals' to his new brothers that he's not actually white, a nearly unrecognizable Taylor Lautner playing a village idiot, Jorge Garcia (the fat guy from "Lost") playing an incomprehensible mumbling moonshiner, and Luke Wilson as the erstwhile bodyguard who did not prevent Abe Lincoln's assassination. They're a watchable bunch of would-be losers who sort of triumph in the end, even after discovering that daddy Nolte is really an unredeemable baddie.

The list of recognizable faces doesn't stop there. There's roles and cameos for the likes of Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro as the inventor of baseball, Jon Lovitz, David Spade, Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain (!), and many more, including Will Forte as the leader of the fearsome (not) Left-eye Gang, whom Steve Zahn must poke out his own right eye to join. The action is non-stop slapstick but all in good humour. While the movie may be a tad too long to accommodate all of co-writer Sandler's would be jokes -- the first-ever baseball game with Turturro could easily have been scrapped -- it's a pleasant enough romp that possibly would have flopped at movie-houses, but which should give less discriminate viewers a few welcome chuckles. Many reviewers on IMDb rate this flick as an all-time low for Sandler, but I found it a welcome change of pace from my usual viewing and now look forward to 'Meyerwitz'.  
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