Happy Gilmore (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

When it comes to golf comedies (not a very popular genre, apparently), the film residing at the dubious pinnacle is Rodney Dangerfield's Caddyshack. Happy Gilmore, the new release featuring Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler, tries gamely to attain Caddyshack's level. Alas, this picture just isn't on par with the passable 1980 farce. Sandler's movie is worth a few laughs, but not many of the comic sequences are original, and even fewer are inspired.

I feel compelled to mention that this is undoubtedly Sandler's best outing to date. However, considering the quality of his other films -- Airheads, Mixed Nuts, and Billy Madison -- that's not an especially impressive statement. Nevertheless, despite the mediocrity of Happy Gilmore, it's apparent that Sandler has some aptitude for physical comedy, which puts him on a significantly higher plane than, say, Pauly Shore.

Actually, one of the biggest problems with Happy Gilmore is that it pretends to have a plot. Sandler's comic skits would have worked better had they not been burdened by the silly, unnecessarily storyline that results in a lot of virtually intolerable tripe linking the funny parts together. And, during the film's numerous golf matches, why are we forced to endure Verne Lundquist's inane voiceovers as he provides TV coverage?

Happy Gilmore starts off like The Cutting Edge on grass. Happy is a hockey player at heart, but, since he can't play his favorite sport (he's not a very good skater), he tries his luck at golf. One day, while bashing 400-foot drives at a driving range, the local pro (Carl Weathers) spots him and encourages him to enter a tournament. The lure of big money attracts Happy -- not because he's greedy, but because he needs $275,000 to buy back his grandmother's house from the U.S. government. Happy wins the tournament, and, as a result, joins the PGA tour, where he becomes an instant phenomenon.

Along for the ride is a beautiful publicist (Julie Bowen), who becomes (surprise, surprise!) Happy's girlfriend; a haughty pro (Christopher McDonald), who is embarrassed by the presence of such an uncouth player on the tour; and a hulking fan (Richard Kiel, Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), who's always ready to jump to Happy's defense. Making cameos as themselves are Lee Trevino and Bob Barker. The latter provides one of the film's most-advertised moments as he gets into a nationally-televised brawl with Happy -- and wins.

Product placement is out-of-control, with every corporation from AT&T to Pepsi getting a mention (each fake golf tournament is "sponsored" by a real company). In the most blatant motion picture advertising campaign since Sinbad hawked McDonalds in last year's Houseguest, Subway gets an interminable amount of screen time. A little product placement is usually inoffensive; taken to these extremes, however, it becomes distracting.

Happy Gilmore could have been a lot funnier. As it is, at least it offers more to chuckle at than most of the dead-in-the-water "comedies" of early 1996. And, thankfully, we're spared the flatulence jokes that have become the staple of many similar films (Dumb and Dumber comes to mind). Nevertheless, irrespective of how many comic moments it provides, Happy Gilmore is still several strokes short of a respectable finish.

Happy Gilmore (United States, 1996)

Director: Dennis Dugan
Cast: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, Carl Weathers, Julie Bowen, Richard Kiel
Screenplay: Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler
Cinematography: Arthur Albert
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:31
U.S. Release Date: 1996-02-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Cartoon Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1