Holy burning bag of dog doo, “Billy Madison” sort of survives such humor.
The perpetrator, Adam Sandler, shouldn’t quit his night job any time too soon. Still, there’s enough potential here to put him on the bigscreen map, even if he’s only a singlelane dirt road.
Sandler, a “Saturday Night Live” regular since 1990, plays the severely weird, 27-year-old title character. Stuporous to a fault, Billy lolls on his father’s mansion grounds with a pair of barely upright liquor lizards named Frank and Jack (Norm MacDonald of “SNL” and Mark Beltzman). During a typical night on the town, they toss pickle slices against a glass wall of a fast food restaurant and then watch them “race” directly south. Next it’s on to crochety old Mr. Clemens’ place for an excrement adventure.
Alas, Billy is in line to inherit his father Brian’s (Darren McGavin) billion-dollar hotel business. But the company’s villainous vice president convinces the elder Madison to take Billy out of the running. The kid fights back by betting Dad he can repeat and pass grades one through 12 in just 24 weeks. There are worse premises.
“Billy Madison” of course is intent on transforming its hero from a lout into a lout who learns a life’s lesson or two. His maharishi is a curvaceous third-grade teacher named Veronica (Bridgette Wilson). The film is reasonably chaste in its depictions of Billy’s wanton lust for her. There must be a European version in the can.
Sandler, who wrote “Billy Madison” with his best pal, Tim Herlihy, leaves himself plenty of room to mug and mess around when the spirit or whatever moves him. He is oddly appealing at times and aggressively aggravating at others.
It’s easy to imagine “Billy Madison” being three or four times funnier with Jim Carrey as its star. Then again, it probably would be two or three times worse if Pauly Shore were in the center ring.
Sandler earns another shot by splitting the difference.
xxxx “Billy Madison” Location: East Sprague, North Division, Showboat cinemas Cast: Adam Sandler, Norm MacDonald, Mark Beltzman, Darren McGavin Running time: 90 minutes Rating: PG-13
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