Dir: Seth Kearsley. US 2002. 71 minutes
Adam Sandler has been extending his acting range recently but Eight Crazy Nights, an animated film in which he voices most of the key characters, is not likely to be confused with Punch Drunk Love. Comedies are always a tough sell abroad and Sandler has never travelled well. This holiday-themed musical, which he also co-wrote and co-produced, isn't likely to reverse the trend. In fact, not even state-side boxoffice looks promising on this one, with the movie opening at number five with a three-day take of $10.1m (and $15.1m from five days over the holiday weekend).
Instead of his usual crude but loveable boob, Sandler here plays a selfish, totally obnoxious 33-year old jerk named Davey Jones who lives alone in a rundown trailer and spends most of his time drunk and rowdy.
After one particularly destructive outing, during which he wreaks havoc on the town of Dukesberry, destroying its painstakingly carved ice statues of Santa Claus and a giant Menorah, he is sentenced to ten years in prison. Remembering what a nice kid Davey once was, and certain he can be rehabilitated, seventy-year old volunteer basketball coach Whitey (also voiced by Sandler, in an annoying high pitch) suggests that instead of the penitentiary, Davey be allowed to assist him in coaching the youth basketball team. An ungrateful Davey doesn't alter his behaviour one iota, further alienating everyone around him, including his childhood sweetheart Jennifer (Titone), who has moved back to Dukesberry with her 12-year old son Benjamin (Stout).
After his trailer burns down, Davey moves in with Whitey and his kvetchy twin sister Eleanor (Sandler again, sporting an even more grating voice).Whitey's innate kindness can't help but have an effect on Davey, who noticeably starts to relax and mellow... until brother and sister innocently ask their houseguest about his family. When the ghosts of his past resurface, Davey's defences go up again. Of course, it is only by dealing with the pain of the past that Davey will ever become a well-adjusted person.
The humour in Eight Crazy Nights (which refers to the eight nights of Hanukah) is typical Sandler: crude, rude and juvenile, with much scatalogical humour and making fun of other people's vulnerabilities (such as the fat kid Davey is forever putting down). It's difficult to imagine anyone over the age of 12 responding to this brand of comedy, although the world is filled with emotionally-stunted adults who will laugh at the mere mention of excrement. To top it off, the animation is rudimentary at best -- hardly a selling point.
Eight Crazy Nights, of course, is intended to teach children a valuable lesson about the importance of facing the painful parts of life if one is to move forward. Acting tough won't solve your problems; you have to learn to cry. While the lesson is a worthy one, it seems terribly trite here. And unfortunately, most young boys, the film's target audience, will respond more favourably to the gross, offensive Davey than to the kinder, gentler man he becomes.
Pro co: A Happy Madison Production
US dist: Columbia Pictures
Intl dist: CTFDI
Prods: Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo and Allen Covert
Scr: Brooks Arthur, Allen Covert, Brad Isaacs and Adam Sandler
Art director/Layout supervisor: Philip A. Cruden
Prod des: Perry Andelin Blake
Ed: Amy Budden
Music supervisor: Brooks Arthur
Main cast (voices): Adam Sandler, Jackie Titone, Austin Stout