SANDY WEXLER REVIEW
Adam Sandler tries his hand at a character study, with jokes. Sandler gathers dozens of celebs to roast longtime talent manager Sandy Wernick with a grating portrait set in the mid-’90s.
If anyone might have thought that Adam Sandler’s eight-picture deal with Netflix meant that the once golden boy of film comedies was going to be making his comeback, his first two films to come from that deal have unanimously proven otherwise. Depending on whether you love or hate Adam Sandler movies, you can hold old-school talent manager Sandy Wernick at least partly accountable for having encouraged his career. Wernick signed Sandler at age 22, three years before “Saturday Night Live” snatched up the young comedian and made him a star, and Sandler has remained loyal ever since — so much so that he’s built his latest sketch-stretched-far-past-the-breaking-point, “Sandy Wexler,” as an in-joke homage to his longtime manager.
Sandler repays those years of service not with a big sloppy kiss of a movie, but rather a feature-length roast (though the word “sloppy” still applies) — one that amplifies the man’s nasal voice and off-putting fake laugh into an elaborate caricature of a hopelessly pathetic bottom-feeder. In all actuality, Sandy Wexler is only slightly funnier than either of his previous Netflix outings, with one or two memorable on screen gags, and a central romance that feels – brace yourself – legitimately earned.
The movie, which is based on Adam’s real-life manager Sandy Wernick, features J-Hud as an aspiring singer named Courtney Clarke, who’s taken under the wing of fictional talent manager Sandy Wexler, played by Sandler.
While one of his clients (Sandler’s actual wife, Jackie) goes out for a commercial audition, Sandy agrees to babysit her kids (real-life daughters Sadie and Sunny Sandler), taking them to a theme park where he stumbles across Courtney (Jennifer Hudson) playing the ugly duckling in a dreary musical act (bonus gag: later, we see that fellow “American Idol” discovery Clay Aiken has taken her place). Instantly smitten, Sandy attempts to sign her on the spot, adding her to a client list that reads like a carnival sideshow — including a ventriloquist (played by Kevin James), a contortionist, and a daredevil (the real-life Sandy Wernick began his career exploiting an Evel Knievel motorcycle stunt gone wrong).
But Courtney is genuinely gifted, and the plot of “Sandy Wexler” concerns how ill-prepared its title character is to steer someone with real talent to success: He nearly ruins the recording of her white-hot, Whitney Houston-esque single, “Mr. DJ” (the best thing to come of this mess), and almost-botches her meeting with producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. There’s also a squirm-inducing subplot about Sandy’s love life in which we’re supposed to root for him and Courtney to end up together — though she’s got aggressive competition from the nearly-widowed rich cougar next door (Jane Seymour), who attempts to seduce Sandy in front of her hooked-to-life-support husband (played by none other than Wernick himself).
While the humor mostly misfires, there’s a certain pleasure to be had simply from spotting the celebrity cameos in “Sandy Wexler” (the big payoff being the reveal of ex-client “Alfred,” whose defection taught Sandy the lesson that he should never get too close to the talent he represents). The movie opens at what we presume to be Sandy’s memorial service, as some two or three dozen famous people — ranging from Paul Reiser to Chris Rock to Vanilla Ice — share fond memories of the legendary talent manager. As the montage drags on, we come to realize how a collection of real-life anecdotes would be far more amusing than the overlong recreation that follows.
Showbiz is full of such unsung heroes, footnote-to-Hollywood figures who often provide excellent fodder for documentaries in their own right (such as “Get Bruce,” about the “Hollywood Squares” regular who punches up Oscar presenters’ jokes backstage, or the forthcoming portrait of oversexed bartender-to-the-stars Scotty Bowers). And yet, though “Sandy Wexler” comes from a place of genuine affection, it feels oddly cruel. As depicted, Sandy isn’t just oblivious, but borderline incompetent.
A number of comedic heavyweights also star in the movie, including Terry Crews, Arsenio Hall, New Girl’s Lamorne Morris, Kevin James, and Rob Schneider.
Jennifer Hudson also recorded her song “Mr. DJ” and its accompanying music video –starring herself, Ma$e, Babyface and Adam — for the film.
The project was overseen by Steve Brill, who met the comedian on “Going Overboard” and first directed him in 2000’s “Little Nicky.” The third film in an eight-picture deal with the quality-ambivalent folks at Netflix, “Sandy Wexler” predictably accommodates another off-color Rob Schneider cameo, this time appearing in brownface as Sandy’s Iranian landlord.
Saying Sandy Wexler is the best film Adam Sandler has made or co-written in a long time isn’t much of a compliment.
Still, if audiences didn’t love Sandler, Netflix never would’ve signed him to make so many movies for them. And the comedy community clearly adores him as well: How else to explain all the genuine legends who show up for cameos (even if it only demanded a single day’s work, it looks as if they all agreed to show up on the same day for Sandler’s benefit)? But the real love-fest here is between Sandler and Sandy, and though it’s not necessarily a flattering portrait, the movie drives home an important lesson: Hollywood agents make the deals, taking 10% of what a star earns for their services, while talent managers give 110% of themselves on behalf of their clients. Despite its shortcomings, “Sandy Wexler” serves as a tribute to that kind of dedication.
Film Review: ‘Sandy Wexler’
Running time: 131 MIN.
A Netflix release and presentation of a Happy Madison Prods., Netflix production. Producers; Adam Sandler: Allen Covert, Ted Sarandos. Executive producer: Barry Benardi, Tim Herhily, Sarah Bowen. Co-producers: Nick Swardson, Kevin Grady, Paul Sado, Dan Bulla.
Director: Steve Brill. Screenplay: Adam Sandler, Camera (color): Dean Semler. Editor: Tom Costain. Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams.
Adam Sandler, Jennifer Hudson, Kevin James, Terry Crews, Rob Schneider, Colin Quinn, Lamorne Morris, Nick Swardson, Jackie Sandler, Jane Seymour, Ido Mosseri, Aaron Neville.