Those anticipating a biopic of the late Shirley Crabtree will be sorely disappointed by Adam Sandler's latest vehicle. Wrestling plays no part in this Big Daddy, an agreeable comedy that mixes Waterboy-style slapstick with Kramer Vs Kramer sentiment. The by-the-numbers plot steers perilously close to the barf zone, but Sandler's cynical abrasiveness means there's much droll humour before the feel-good formula takes over.
The Saturday Night Live alumnus is ideally cast as a dedicated underachiever whose idea of gainful employment is working one day a week as a tollbooth attendant. The rest of his time is spent goofing around the Big Apple, sipping brewskies in a local bar and watching TV with the guy who delivers take-outs to his building (a colourful turn from Rob Schneider). Such idleness proves irksome to roomie Kevin (Larry Sanders regular Jon Stewart), a lawyer who decides to move out and wed his sweetheart, Corinne. Sonny's own girlfriend Vanessa takes an equally dim view and shacks up with another, much older man.
Everything changes when Julian (played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse) is rudely left on the doorstep. Sonny takes a shine to the kid, and in no time at all he's showing him how to piddle in public and wrongfoot rollerbladers in Central Park. Sonny, of course, is to fatherhood what Mick Jagger is to family planning, though at least his heart's in the right place. If the brat needs cheering up he'll gladly throw himself in front of a car, and on Halloween Night he bullies anyone whose trick-or-treat goodies aren't up to scratch.
Alas, the juvenile hijinks are soon booted into touch and replaced by treacly mawkishness. The reformed Sonny now reads bedtime stories to the tyke and dresses up as his much-loved Scuba Steve doll. He also softens enough to start a relationship with legal cutie Layla (Chasing Amy's Joey Lauren Adams) and reconcile with his testy father (Joe Bologna). Throw in a custody battle and a clichéd courtroom climax, and you begin to wonder if this is the same guy who performed Love Stinks in The Wedding Singer.
Much of the comedy relies on low blows at the expense of senior citizens, gay couples and foreigners, while the film is riddled with shameless product placements. A homeless Steve Buscemi waxes lyrical about McDonald's breakfasts, and there's a running gag surrounding Corinne's shady past as a waitress for the real-life US restaurant chain Hooters. But where the squeaky-voiced Adams struggles with the material, Sandler effortlessly soars above it and takes the audience with him. After all, it's hard not to warm to a bloke who uses newspaper to cover vomit and allows youngsters to feast on tomato ketchup.
Not as funny as The Waterboy, but still an entertaining comedy that won't damage Sandler's growing UK fanbase. Director Dugan cushions his star with a strong supporting cast and delivers enough belly laughs to excuse the sucrose second half.