When’s the last time Adam Sandler smiled in a movie? Not the last time he made you, the viewer, smile — that must be decades ago by now — when’s the last time he smiled?
He looked lethargic and bored in July’s Pixels, and he looks half-dead in Netflix release The Ridiculous 6. The movie follows White Knife (Sandler, who also co-writes and co-produces), a white man raised by American Indians in the West after his mother was gunned down in front of him when he was a child. His father, Frank Stockburn (Nick Nolte), who had abandoned the family before his birth, suddenly appears, saying he is dying of tuberculosis and wants to connect with his lost son. After telling White Knife about the $50,000 he has buried in the area, he is just as suddenly abducted by his former gang, whom he promises that same stash to but leads far away, intending to die to save his son. Unable to find the real stash, White Knife resolves to steal $50,000 to save his father. Along the way, he encounters five strangers (Rob Schneider, Taylor Lautner, Jorge Garcia, Luke Wilson and Terry Crews), who all turn out to be his half-brothers.
The Ridiculous 6 isn’t a B movie. It isn’t a C or D or Z movie — it doesn’t exist on that spectrum. Bad movies, historically, have always been some of the most enjoyable for their silliness. The Ridiculous 6 is unenjoyable. The movie actively seeks sweet spots between good and bad enough to laugh at where it needs to, but mostly avoids even the risk of a slightly redeeming — or even particularly memorable — factor with its plot structure and joke choices. It is deliberately — and brilliantly — crafted against enjoyment. This is less a movie and more a plea for help from Sandler, who clearly wants his career to end but doesn’t have the nerve to do it himself.
It goes without saying that the movie is unfunny. There’s a complete separation between scenes that are supposed to be about plot and scenes that are supposed to be funny, and the two rarely intersect. The majority of the movie is an alternation between dry, soulless exposition and gross-out humor, the kind of thing a pre-teen boy might think is funny put together in a narrative structure that a pre-teen boy might think is sound. The result is a film that repeatedly jerks a viewer from scene to scene, never flowing properly. If the viewer can bring himself to pay attention, many scenes will draw a reaction of wonder as to why they’re happening. In one instance, the six go from singing around a campfire to inventing baseball with Abner Doubleday (John Turturro).
“Why” is also the question to ask in said comedy scenes. “Why are they stopping to play baseball?” “Why is that donkey blowing Taylor Lautner?” To so much of this movie, the appropriate response is, “Why is this scene happening?” Even within the film, there often isn’t a good answer. More interesting is the question, “Why was this movie made?”
There is one reason to watch The Ridiculous 6, and one reason only, and that reason is to see the void in a man’s eyes. Normally, when an actor isn’t really trying, it looks like they’re sleepwalking through a production, but that’s not what Sandler looks like here. Sandler looks like he’s wide awake in this, and he looks like he’s hating every second of it. This movie that he put his own time into to write and his own money into to produce, he can’t seem to stand. Sandler is the driving force behind this movie, and he clearly does not want any part of it, and surprisingly, he’s the only one who doesn’t.
Schneider, Wilson and director Frank Coraci are game. Lautner and Crews are having a grand old time. Nolte, Turturro, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo and Harvey Keitel — clearly, a lot of people owed Sandler a favor or two — all play their small roles with enthusiasm and professionalism. The base story, about a man compelled to save his absentee father to make up for his guilt over his mother’s death, is full of depth and complexity and could easily have been turned into a serious drama.
Sandler had absolute creative freedom here partnered with Netflix, a company to which ratings mean almost nothing, and with a $300 million net worth, it’s not like he needs the money. Even after he was forced into the deal because no distributor that actually distributes movies and needs people to turn up for them would come near him, Sandler has the kind of control that most directors spend their whole lives just hoping for, that auteurs like Tarantino and the Coen brothers risked their careers to attain.
This movie is Sandler’s unadulterated vision, but all his eyes can see are the void.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Life’s more fun with dirty hands. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.