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Layla Maloney is fed up with boyfriend Sonny Koufax's perpetual loafing, so when 5-year-old Julian is left on Sonny's doorstep, he assumes a fatherly role to prove he's responsible and to win Layla's love. Trouble is, Sonny has grown attached to the kid, who's really the son of his out-of-town roommate.

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Big Daddy movie full length review - An "Adam" bomb

If movies were bombs, BIG DADDY could take out Hiroshima. The plot seems almost schizophrenic, as we are invited to cluck our tongues in disapproval as Sonny makes an idiot of himself and then urged to root for him in the movie's God-awful courtroom climax.

It doesn't work, and ultimately neither does the film. Sonny's not an underdog; he's just a plain dog - period.

I really have nothing against Adam Sandler. When it comes to classic comedy, he is a precious diamond in the rough. His aw-shucks, Simple Simon shtick - a marriage of Jimmy Stewart and Forrest Gump with a dash of Jim Carrey thrown in - never fails to endear him to audiences. When he really turns on the charm (as he did as the sweetly naive Southern buffoon Bobby Boucher in THE WATERBOY), he can do no wrong. But there is another Adam, and this one is as horrid a counterpart as Mr. Hyde was to Dr. Jekyll. I'm talking about the anguished man-child of HAPPY GILMORE, the painfully scarred soul so full of self-loathing that he has to punch out innocent bystanders and spew sewer language to bolster his fragile ego. That's not funny, but incredibly sad. If we laugh at such rampages, it is only due the comfort we take in knowing that it's just an act.

Sandler, fortunately, doesn't resort to a lot of that here. Instead, he wants us to view him as a prototypical merry prankster who just can't contain his chaotic id every once in a while. That's fine and good, but you have to question the innocence of Sonny's dalliances when there is a five-year-old boy present. And since prepubescent children can be as mimetic by nature as circus monkeys, the image of young Julian as a Sonny-reared adult poses a fascinating quandary: how much good-intentioned permissiveness is too much when raising a kid? If you let some little boy call himself "Frankenstein," order thirty packets of ketchup for lunch, pee on the side of a building, and hock loogies in public - will he still be able to get a date for the prom when he's eighteen?

Urged on by Sonny's erratic role-modeling, Julian shuttles back and forth incongruously between apple-cheeked munchkin and overly precocious demon child. For some reason, we're supposed to find that hilarious; it is, but only because of the banality of it all. It just doesn't seem right for the twins who played Julian to get in front of the camera and humiliate themselves just so a bunch of grown-ups can make oodles of dough.

There are, to be sure, plenty of chuckles to be found in BIG DADDY. Most of them, however, are tinged with the irony of our awareness that in real life such events wouldn't be quite so amusing. Not that the talented cast doesn't give it 110 percent, though. As Sonny's girlfriend, Joey Lauren Adams does a
decent job of salvaging the comedy through sheer earnestness - this despite the fact that she's got that gratingly breathy voice that suggests a permanently crushed larynx. Rob Schneider strives valiantly to make us smile with his dopey immigrant character, but in the end he just contributes to the movie's smarmy attitude. The always-welcome Jon Stewart shows up for a spell, though he isn't given the opportunity to really let loose with the withering quips like he does on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." And it's a great pity indeed that the mesmerizing Kristy Swanson is here reduced to such a faceless character with a one-joke role. Her remarkable animal magnetism alone would have done much to redeem this comedy from cinematic hell.