MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Adam Sandler (Bobby Boucher), Fairuza Balk (Vicki Vallencourt), Kathy Bates (Mama Boucher), Henry Winkler (Coach Klein), Jerry Reed (Coach Red Beaulieu), Blake Clark (Farmer Fran), Larry Gilliard Jr. (Derek Wallace)
"The Waterboy" is a listless, dull comedy from the same team that made "The Wedding Singer": Frank Coraci in the director's chair and Tim Herlihy and star Adam Sandler penning the script. This seems to offer hope in that "The Wedding Singer" was infinitely better than Sandler's earlier star vehicles like "Billy Madison" (1995) and "Happy Gilmore" (1996). Unfortunately, it turns out that the "The Waterboy" could not be any more boring, predictable, and patently unfunny. The only thing that sparks any kind of a response is Sandler's irritating performance in which he lisps and babbles in a high falsetto that is intended to make him endearing, but is truly grating on one's nerves.
Sandler stars as Bobby Boucher, a childlike 31-year-old man who learns to channel the aggressive energy accumulated from years of torment into incredible football hitting prowess (his physicality is helped, of course, by loud sound effects and fast-cut editing). He lives with his overbearing Mama (Oscar-winner Kathy Bates in a bad career move) in a perfectly Freudian set-up: they live in the deep swamp of the Louisiana Bayou where Mama keeps Bobby hidden from such potential corruptive forces as school, reading, and girls, all of which she refers to as "the devil." The situation would have been more humorous if it hadn't been so creepy.
Early in the film, Bobby is fired from his waterboy position at the big league University of Louisiana by the viciously mean Coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed). Watching all the U.L. football players constantly ridiculing Bobby is an obvious indicator that this will be the team on the other side of the ball during the big game finale. Deprived of his waterboy job (which is Bobby's only means of self-esteem) he seeks out another team and ends up with the South Central Louisiana State College Mud Dogs (I have to admit, I love that name), the worst, poorest, and most pathetic college team in the state. Just like any other sports movie that chronicles a team's rise from the pits of athletic shame to the championship (here it's the Bourbon Bowl), it's no surprise that Bobby's previously unrecognized tackling talents inspire his other, less talented teammates to rise to the occasion and win the big game.
If the plot is conventional, there is always charm and good humor to keep an otherwise predictable film lively (that was the saving grace of "Major League," another sports movie in the same vein). Only problem is, "The Waterboy" is decidedly lacking in both charm and good humor. In fact, there is rarely a funny moment in the entire production, even at its minimal 90-minute length.
This is not to say that nobody is trying, here. In fact, all the performers give it the old college best, but their parts are bland caricatures of Cajun idiocy. When Sandler isn't delivering lines like a three-year-old, we have Henry Winkler, once the paragon of confidence as The Fonz, looking embarrassed and tired as Sandler's mentally unstable football coach. "Saturday Night Live" alum Rob Schnieder shows up near the end, making senseless comments as a Cajun hillbilly who, for some reason, speaks with a Hispanic accent. The movie even parades a couple of pro football stars and commentators across the screen, adding to the ever-mounting evidence--which includes Dan Marino's performance in "Ace Ventura" (1994) and Bret Farve's cameo in "There's Something About Mary" (1998)--that most football personalities are extremely self-conscious on film and therefore not funny.
Herlihy and Sandler's script tries with all its might to inject geographical humor into the story, and some of it is mildly amusing. The film wants to make Bates' Mama character a real hoot, right down to having her live with a mule named Steve, barbecue alligators and bake frog muffins, and refer to football as "fooz-ball," but it's all in vain. The jokes are either old, timid, or simply unfunny, leaving Bates (and everybody else, for that matter) with little to work with. I suspect that even Sandler's most die-hard fans are going to have a hard time cheering "The Waterboy."
©1998 James Kendrick