For a disconcertingly long time, Adam Sandler reigned as one of our biggest and most dependable box office attractions. It didn’t seem to matter how terrible and widely maligned his movies were, or how much contempt he seemingly had for his audience. Sandler vehicles like Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, Jack & Jill, and Just Go with It were barely movies, but that did not keep them from becoming huge blockbusters all the same.
The Grown Ups movies might have been glorified, sub-par home movies of Sandler and his buddies goofing around on holiday, but they nevertheless grossed over a half billion collectively. Imagine how much more they would have made had anyone involved exerted any effort whatsoever!
That’s a whole lot of moolah, but over time, something strange, unexpected, and refreshing started to happen: an audience overwhelmed with lazy, shambling Sandler vehicles from his Happy Madison schlock factory began rejecting his movies.
It wasn’t just Sandler’s lowbrow junk that was getting shut out by audiences that had finally had enough. His intermittent attempts to do something different and arty and more highbrow bombed big-time too. If anything, Sandler’s turn as a morose suburban dad in Jason Reitman’s ridiculous, hysterical melodrama Men, Women and Children and a tailor whose life becomes infused with clunky magic in Tom McCarthy’s muddled, surreal fantasy comedy The Cobbler were even worse received — commercially if not critically — than late-period Sandler flops like That’s My Boy, Blended, and Pixels.
So when it was announced that a man whose name once all but guaranteed huge ticket sales, particularly among teenage boys, had signed a deal to have four movies skip the multiplex altogether and debut on streaming giant Netflix, it was seen, rightfully, as a dispiriting illustration of the actor’s fading popularity.
What’s frustrating about Sandler is that he remains a profoundly talented and likable performer, as evidenced by his well-received recent dramatic turn in Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. As Punch Drunk Love and Funny People also illustrated, Sandler can be a compelling, mercurial, and magnetic dramatic actor, if only he didn’t waste his time with projects like 2015’s The Ridiculous 6, the very first movie in his much-hyped Netflix deal and the unhappy recipient of a zero percent score here at Rotten Tomatoes.
The Ridiculous 6 casts Sandler, who also co-wrote the script with frequent collaborator Tim Herlihy, as Tommy Stockburn, a white man raised as a Native American and given the name “White Knife” by his tribe.
One day veteran bank robber and ne’er do well Frank Stockburn (onetime People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive Nick Nolte) comes to White Knife’s village to tell him that he’s his real father and has hidden $50,000 for his son to inherit as amends for never being there for him.
Alas, the crusty old career criminal is abducted by bandits led by Cicero (Danny Trejo), leading his son to embark on a mission to steal enough money to spring his old man from his kidnappers. Along the way, he meets, as the title suggests, five equally ridiculous half-brothers, including his Mexican relation Ramon (Rob Schneider, once again in brown face for no discernible reason), who possesses a mighty burro whose explosive diarrhea is used as a sneak weapon in the brother’s crime spree and whose equally explosive flatulence has the ability to forecast the weather.
Then there’s “Li’l Pete”, a perpetually giggling half-wit played by super-ripped Twilight lycanthrope Taylor Lautner in a revelatory performance that proves that he’s just as dreadful at broad comedy as he is starring in Parkour-themed action movies like Tracers, which was released the same year as The Ridiculous 6. Rounding out the Dirty Half-Dozen are Lost’s Jorge Garcia as Herm, a big bear of a man who speaks a form of gibberish only Tommy/White Knife seems to understand; Luke Wilson as Danny, a lost soul and former secret service agent who can never quite forgive himself for letting Abraham Lincoln get killed on his watch; and finally the great Terry Crews as piano-playing brother Chico.
The Ridiculous 6 is a predictably star-studded affair featuring cameos and supporting turns from seemingly everyone who has ever appeared in a Happy Madison production or shown up at an Adam Sandler party. Supporting players include Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Norm MacDonald, David Spade, Steve Zahn, Nick Swardson, Jon Lovitz, John Turturro, Blake Shelton, Chris Kattan, broadcaster and sometimes actor Dan Patrick, and last and almost assuredly least, That’s My Boy scene stealer Vanilla Ice as a hip hop Mark Twain. Yes, Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain.
Each big name appearance engenders pity and sadness, rather than surprise or excitement. Like so many Happy Madison projects, this feels like a sprawling party that the audience wasn’t invited to. The cast is clearly having fun having fun hanging out with each other, but that enjoyment does not extend to the suckers watching.
Instead of elevating the material, the heavyweight actors like Nolte, Turturro, and Buscemi end up debased by it. The Ridiculous 6 is shockingly light on jokes in its first act (although it does feature knee-slappers like our hero’s fiancée being called “Poca-Hot-Tits”), in part because a dispiritingly low-energy Sandler is content to play the straight man and leave the comedy to the over-active digestive system of Ramon’s burro.
If any movie has a right to get in and out in 85 minutes, it’s this foray into the world of anachronistic Western comedies (a genre Happy Madison had not yet defiled with its hackwork), but The Ridiculous 6 lasts an unconscionable two hours. Since much of that running time is devoted to Sandler’s glum hero assembling the titular aggregation of misfits, oddballs, and kooks, its title begins to feel like a threat. Why, for the love of God, couldn’t it have been The Ridiculous 4? Or even The Ridiculous 3?
Occasionally the film will stumble upon a halfway clever comic conceit, like an interlude when our heroes encounter Abner Doubleday (Turturro), who invites them to play a game whose rules seem made up on the spot to give him an unfair advantage… except that he is the creator of this particular game, which we know as baseball.
But if this eminently cuttable standalone sequence, which has so little to do with the rest of the movie that it easily could have been an unused Saturday Night Live sketch left over from Sandler and co-writer Herlihy’s tenure on the comedy institution, has a germ of a good idea, it dies a painful death in execution.
Through the magic of sped-up editing (the kind used to artful and comedic effect when joined with Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” on The Benny Hill Show), White Knife is shown to be preternaturally fast and agile, not unlike Sandler’s Zohan in 2008’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Even more perplexingly, he’s irresistible not only to his underwritten fiancée Smoking Fox (Julia Jones) but all of the women of his tribe, who seem to view him as a sex God. Somewhere along the way, Sandler unwisely traded in self-deprecation for self-aggrandizement; here, he’s a white man who’s clearly supposed to be a better, more capable Native American than the actual Native Americans that surround him.
Sandler strives to give his western hero the raspy, stoic toughness of a young Clint Eastwood, but comes off lifeless. Think of him as the Man-Child with No Name. The fading comic superstar seems to have two modes these days: over the top (often with a crazy accent or voice) and barely awake. The sleepy, mumbly, monotone Sandler is the one we’re saddled with here for two hours that pass like four.
The Ridiculous 6 isn’t entirely devoid of redeeming facets. Ironically, its strongest feature — Dean Semler’s lovely cinematography, which goes a long way towards making this feel like a real western — is precisely the element that suffers the most from the movie being watched on laptops and computers instead of movie screens.
While The Ridiculous 6 may have failed in every conceivable sense creatively, it became the most watched movie in Netflix history after less than a month. So while critics of the world may have responded to Sandler and company’s latest insult with a strong, uniform “Oh God no!”, Netflix subscribers who still fondly, fuzzily remember the golden days of Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore apparently looked at the movie’s ubiquitous advertising on the site and thought, “Eh, why not?” before lazily pressing play en masse.
Then again, Netflix’s Bright, The Cloverfield Paradox, and most recently Game Over, Man! were all eviscerated by critics and seen by millions of viewers in their first week alone, too: Bright infamously notched 11 million views in just three days, while the Cloverfield spin-off was seen over five million times its first week. So The Ridiculous 6 is far from the only instance of the film world’s trash becoming Netflix’s treasure.
If you Got a Problem, Make It Rain like Twain
thechaynes12, December 2015
I have seen every Sandler movie, and this movie ranks as one his best comedies. Critics can suck it. This movie is awesome. The campfire song should win Oscar for best song. Rob Schneider shows up with his best performance since The Waterboy. In a perfect world Vanilla Ice would get a spin off movie for his Mark Twain character and do five sequels. Terry Crews was amazing as usual, and who knew he could play piano so well. This is the strongest comedic supporting cast for a Sandler movie ever. O Doyle RULES! Seriously, this is the comedy of the year. I feel this movie was done to tick off the critics and to make the fans happy. I can’t wait to see the next movie Sandler does. The cinematography actually looked great. This felt like a theatrical release quality film. I think this movie is going to be a cult classic, and I’ve already seen the movie 3 times, and it came out two days ago.
It’s encouraging that, at some point in his career, Adam Sandler seems to have realized that it was unfair and wrong to expect people to leave their homes, hire babysitters, secure parking, and then pay inflated ticket prices to see his late-period films. But The Ridiculous 6 is so endless, awful, and endlessly awful that it’s not even worth streaming while lounging around your apartment in your bathrobe on a sick day. In this case, one fading superstar, one ambitious online streaming powerhouse eager to get into the big-time movie production/distribution business, six wacky half-brothers, and a million pointless cameos all add up to one big Zero.
Nathan Rabin is a freelance writer, columnist, the first head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, most recently Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin