Billy Madison (1995) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and crude humor
Running time: 89 min.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bridgette Wilson, Darren McGavin, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Norm MacDonald, Mark Beltzman, Larry Hankin, Theresa Merritt, Chris Farley, Steve Buscemi, Dina Platias, Robert Smigel (cameo)
Director: Tamra Davis
Screenplay: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
Review published September 13, 2007
I haven't the foggiest notion as to why Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer) fans regard his starring debut, Billy Madison, as a funny movie. Then again, I haven't the foggiest notion as to why the fans regard Adam Sandler as funny either. Even if I didn't find much worth laughing about, Sandler was certainly laughing all the way to the bank, especially as he continued to rehash most of the same persona through more films equally energetic but idiotic.
Sandler plays Billy Madison, a lifelong idiot and man-child who was once the natural choice to take over the reigns of his multimillionaire father's (McGavin, From the Hip) company, but due to his lack of intelligence and discipline, it looks like it's going to go to the arrogant suck-up second-in-command, Eric Gordon (Whitford, A Perfect World). Billy is incensed by the decision, but convinces his father that if he can pass every grade of school up through high school with two weeks allotted to each grade, he will get the company. His father agrees, so it's off to school again for Billy. It's not easy, as his adult behavior and large physical stature doesn't blend well with the kids in elementary school, although it makes him a candidate for getting together with the object of desire, third grade teacher Miss Vaughn (Wilson, Mortal Kombat). Things seem to be going well enough, but wily Eric has a few dirty tricks up his sleeve.
The way I see it, it's a lose-lose situation for the father's company if the only two contenders for the person to take over everything he's built up are an idiot and an asshole. One questions how the company has functioned this well this long with someone who obviously is not only unfit to make a decision that will greatly affect the well-being of the company, but his manner of making this decision isn't much better than choosing through "eeny, meeny, miney, moe".
One of the dumbest aspects of this film full of dumb aspects is the ridiculously forced romance between Billy and Miss Vaughn that seems to turn direction from disgust to lust in the matter of one scene. This scene shows Billy trying to console a kid despondent because he's wet his pants, followed by Billy going to a water pump to pour water on his own crotch and call out to the rest of the kids how cool it is to wet your pants, to which all the kids respond by urinating in their own. Of course, Billy could have just as easily poured more water on other parts of the kid to mask the wet spot in that key area (the wet spots on the kids seem strangely high up for a pants wetting), but I guess he's an idiot anyway, so I'll let that one slide. The thing I can't let slide is how impressed Miss Vaughn is at Billy's intuitiveness and compassion because he makes every one of her students not only piss themselves, but also wear their soaked, soiled pants and undergarments for who knows how many hours until they get home.
There are a few funny moments to be sure. For example, a scene where Billy calls to apologize to a man who he used to pick on in school (played by Steve Buscemi, Living in Oblivion) is funny (the man crosses Billy off of his list of people he must kill), as is the brief deus ex machina appearance of the same character later. A scene of Billy rolling up to his new high school blaring Billy Squier's "Stroke Me" and wearing his old duds also gets its laughs. However, the few good moments don't come close to making up for the dumb and unfunny parts, such as a recurring penguin gag that is DOA from inception. A scene with Miss Vaughn stripping for Billy to get right answers during a prep session is out of character and tacky. The climax of the film, involving a contest of champions between Billy and Eric, has no discernable rules. They contrive to squeeze out something funny out of nothing, but it's all very forced. It's sometimes painful to watch Sandler try to hard to come up with so little.
For a film about a man who becomes more educated as the storyline progresses, I think I felt myself getting stupider. I've seen meditation exercises where people can slow down their breathing until they are barely breathing at all, and I think if meditation can also drop IQ points, perhaps with diligent practice, I might see what others who love this film find so funny. If not meditation, then medication -- the kind of drug that will make me dimwitted and giddy enough to laugh at giant penguins on sight. It's a tasteless and terribly executed mess for people who laugh at things just because they are "so stupid, they're funny".
©2007 Vince Leo