Funny People is a serious film about the business of being funny. Adam Sandler is George Simmons, a man who bagged stand-up comedy to become one of the world's most popular movie stars. Simmons stars in awful projects. In one he's a male mermaid. Another casts him as a full-grown man accidentally turned into a baby.
That's where writer/director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) inserts his twist. George is dying. He hires Seth Rogen's Ira Wright to write some jokes and be his personal assistant. Dying men are full of regrets. George wants to right his biggest wrong and reconnect with the woman he should have married.
She's now married to someone else.
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Skip the death thing and Sandler is basically playing himself. How hard can that be? Harder than you think. It is not his best-ever performance but it is close. The few times Sandler-who is closing in on 43-has shucked the buffoonery and stretched a little, no one saw the films. Sandler's success seems linked to permanent adolescence. Fart jokes beat out the cerebral and fans flock to flicks like You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
It hasn't all been bad. Sandler's only tolerable character is the humble sad sack from excellent pieces like The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. However, they worked as much because of the skills of co-star Drew Barrymore as Sandler's charms.
Sandler's fans ignored his pitch perfect acting in Reign Over Me and in Punch-Drunk Love. Both tanked critically and at the box office. My critics complain about my complaints that Sandler's penchant for forgettable comedies has wasted his true talent. He's a mega talent with the rare ability to make you laugh and make you cry.
Funny People is going to be seen and will get critical raves. Apatow's script strays at times but the basic story takes you interesting places. Rogen and Apatow staples Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman and cameos by Sandler contemporaries Sarah Silverman, Andy Dick, Norm MacDonald, Dave Attell, Paul Reiser and others add fun and credibility to the first 90 minutes.
The last hour is the worry. When the love story ramps up the sugar, Funny People wanders, loses its energy and is not so funny, entertaining or profound. This is where Sandler rock solid performance becomes important.
Without it the film falls apart.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for language, crude humor, nudity, sex. It opens Friday, July 31 at the Carmike 12 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars/4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars / 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars / 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars / 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.