The latest Adam Sandler film, “Pixels,” bombed, and for this there should be much rejoicing. It’s not just another lazy Sandler effort; it’s a big budget, effects-heavy blockbuster that pits him and Kevin James against alien warriors who take the form of blocky, ’80s arcade characters. That it made a mere $24 million against a $130 million budget — coming in second to a “lesser” Marvel entry, “Ant-Man,” in its own second week — is some particularly rich schadenfreude, as is that his previous Happy Madison production, last year’s “Blended,” did even worse.
But not so fast. Even the devil deserves some sympathy, as does a guy who simply makes terrible movies. (And the critic Bilge Ebiri penned an excellent defense of Sandler's work.) This hasn’t been a great year for Sandler, who not only fared terribly with his own product, but also with two indies. “Men, Women & Children” and “The Cobbler” — which paired him with acclaimed directors Jason Reitman and Thomas McCarthy, respectively — actually received worse reviews than the usual mainstream Sandler outing. Perhaps worse, for him at least, they barely made a blip at the box office. The latter might even turn into a camp classic, especially given the insane turn it takes in the final minutes. Throw in a snafu in which Native American actors walked off the set of one of his Netflix-only movies, incensed over race jokes, plus Rose McGowan leaking out a sexist audition memo, and Sandler now looks like a bro whose time has passed.
We’re not saying one should pity him because he’s a onetime golden boy in a career slump. We are saying that one should pity him because, at this point, he looks actively depressed. His performance in “Pixels” is beyond sleepy; he tends to look a combination of tired and cranky, as though pissed that he had to get out of bed at all. He’s been that way for awhile. He was an energy vacuum in “Blended” too, and before then were the two “Grown Up” entries — films that really look like he just went on vacation with his buds and filmed their low-watt banter. At one point in the second film they just spend a fairly long stretch walking around Kmart.
One could say these films are arrogant — that he assumes his fanbase will turn out for anything he does, no matter how little effort he puts into them. One could say this is arrogant as well as tragic. Sandler is a pretty cagey interview, and when he does something daring, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” or Judd Apatow’s “Funny People,” he hasn’t been vocal about what, if anything, they mean to him as, like, an artist. We can’t be sure how much of the real Sandler is in “Funny People”’s George Simmons, a comedic megastar who hates himself and the lowest common denominator films that have netted him a mansion but a miserable life of empty sex and loneliness. (In real life, Sandler is a family man.)