Directed by Frank Coraci. Starring Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates, Larry Gilliard Jr, Rob Schneider, Clint Howard, Henry Winkler, Jerry Reed, Fairuza Balk. (1998, PG-13, 100 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 6, 1998
Another half a year, another Adam Sandler film. Director Coraci, who reined in the manic comic in their last outing, The Wedding Singer, takes the opposite tack this time and allows Sandler the freedom to go way over the top with mixed results. Fans of The Mumble that Walks Like a Man will almost certainly rejoice that Sandler is back to his old SNL tricks; others might note that the whole thing feels like yet another extended sketch that drags on about an hour too long. Either way, the game is played by Sandler's rules. Here he's Bobby Boucher, a Louisiana football waterboy who, when fired by evil coach Reed, moves on to serve for the losingest college team in Louisiana history, which, unsurprisingly, is coached by Henry Winkler. Thoroughly wrapped in his mother's apron strings (Kathy Bates, even more over the top than her co-star, if such a thing is conceivable), he's the saddest sack around, taking his team's abuse as if it came with the job. When Winkler urges him to take a stand, Bobby unleashes the beast within and turns out to be a pretty good tackler. So good, in fact, that he wins the respect of his teammates, leads them to the first annual Louisiana Bourbon Bowl, and starts attracting groupies like Peter Frampton on remoulade. Against the better wishes of his mother, he begins dating ex-con Vicki Valencourt (Balk) and, well, you can probably figure it out from here. The Waterboy is about as inoffensive a comedy as you're likely to find these days, although citizens of the Sportsman's Paradise might rankle at the heavy-handed depiction of their Cajun cousins. Still, it's a mildly amusing bayou farce with plenty of “foosball” action to liven the sometimes plodding proceedings. As in The Wedding Singer, Coraci displays an inspired sense of mediocrity in his direction. Scenes proceed from one another with casual ease as Sandler loafs through the role, smacking his lips and generally playing up the Cajun hick routine. Salvation, if that's what you want to call it, comes in the form of the impossibly sexualized Balk, who devours scenery with gooey abandon. Who knew this evil witch from The Craft was such an accomplished comedienne, and why isn't she doing more of it? All raven locks and gobby mascara (and that aquamarine tattoo -- nice permanent touch), she's all the cornfield girls of Hee-Haw rolled into one smoky package. Kudos also to Clint Howard, who has a smallish part, but makes the most of it, and to SNL alumnus Schneider as well, whose predictably toady turn is one of the small, throwaway highlights of the film. It's not Billy Madison, quite, but The Waterboy is still pure Sandler. If you like that sort of thing.