There's 10 minutes' worth of really funny stuff in "Billy Madison," about enough for one of star Adam Sandler's skits on "Saturday Night Live." If you've seen the trailer, you're one up on those of us who have endured the entire film.
One can see where "Billy Madison" might have been successful. The premise, while not altogether fresh, has potential for cuteness: twentysomething Billy (Sandler), in order to prove he's worthy of taking over his father's hotel empire, must go back to school and pass grades 1 through 12 in just six months. That gives him two weeks per grade, which is a lot of time spent with photogenic young kids. So why is it so boring?
Well, first of all, there's too much time spent at the beginning showing us how stupid and worthless Billy is.
He spends the day at his dad's mansion, hanging out at the pool with his friends and drinking himself into hallucinations of giant penguins. For enlightenment, he eagerly awaits "nudie magazine day." For fun, he and his buddies set fire to bags of poop and put them on an old man's doorstep. The point seems to be that they aren't very creative. They also aren't very funny.
Finally, Billy goes to school, and his interaction with the kids at least has moments of charm. Billy is hot for his third-grade teacher, obligatory lovely love interest Bridgette Wilson, who gallantly invests as much personality into her character as her lines allow.
It seems pointless to talk about character in a movie this dumb, but Sandler just doesn't seem to have a grip on who Billy is. He's either earnest or stupid, and there isn't much in between. Unlike Bill Murray, who can be sly and smart and absolutely winning at the same time he's playing a goofball, Sandler carries his odd shtick to remote and alien extremes. His whiny humor works in his stand-up act, but here, except for a few laughs, it drags the story down.
The villain of the piece, played by Bradley Whitford, is an ambitious company vice president who wants Billy to fail in his effort to prove himself to dad. At least Whitford shows a little panache at being naughty, in spite of the nearly witless script, written by Sandler and Tim Herlihy.
The movie feels like a first draft, in which the writers forgot what kind of story they wanted to tell. What starts as a farce becomes theater of the absurd. There are too many fat jokes. And the secondary characters, whose purpose seems to be to inject some eccentric life into this silly world, end up looking like bad caricatures.
There is one inspired thread in this tangled yarn, a thread so
small it's nearly lint, involving an old psycho classmate of Billy's. If you're going to see this movie, you're going to need the laugh, so it won't be revealed here. Better yet, don't see this movie.
Starring Adam Sandler and Bridgette Wilson
Directed by Tamra Davis
Released by Universal
Rated PG-13 (language)