Adam Sandler doesn’t break much ground or wind in his new picture The Waterboy, yet he manages to create a surprisingly funny film from an initially tired concept. Essentially, The Waterboy merely recycles most of the plot from Sandler’s successful Happy Gilmore. Also mixed in are references to every football movie ever made.
However, while Happy Gilmore seemed to be both juvenile and witty, The Waterboy, starring Sandler as Bobby Bouchet, is only the former. Traumatized by stories of his father’s death in the Sahara Desert, Bouchet grows up dispensing water to all those who desire liquid refreshment, namely various football players who demonstrate their thanks by constantlytortuting the poor waterboy.
As if Bouchet’s screechy voice and stupid grin were not grating enough, it also happens that his 31 years of life have been spent in the sole company of his mother, a god-fearing Lousiana woman (Kathy Bates) who decries both education and girls as “the devil.” She hates “foozball” with a passion, and can only count the days until Bobby gives up his hobby and stays home with Mama to keep her company.
Bobby does everything people tell him to in a delightfully mocking Forrest Gump fashion, but eventually his well of untapped rage at his tormentors runs over in spectacular fashion. Naturally this occurs on the field of a floundering football program coached by a mentally unstable Henry Winkler. Bobby must harness his amazing ability to tackle, lead the SLSU Mud Dogs to the eventual showdown against the school that fired him, convert his team into winners and discover how wonderful girls are in only one season, all while keeping his mother unaware of his budding collegiate career. Plenty of hard knocks and prepubescent laughs occur along the way. Sound a little strained?
Even with all this, The Waterboy surprisingly succeeds. However, it aims low. Sandler is the most annoying character, although Bates comes in a close second; fortunately, both temper their somewhat mundane roles with flair. The designers make the Bouchet house seem more like an insane temple than a home, and Mrs. Bouchet’s cooking, while probably quite offensive to most Lousianians, are so over the top that one can’t help but laugh. In addition, Henry Winkler’s innocent insanity makes for a likable mad coach character. All three characters become too predictable to produce much humor by the end of the movie, but the joy of the football scenes takes up the slack.
In its skewed depictions of the game, The Waterboy shines. Instead of playing the familiar quarterback hero role, Bouchet becomes a linebacker due to his tackling ability. Essentially Bobby imagines his opponents as various people who have taunted him, a visual effect that is at first simply cute. It becomes hilarious when Bouchet imagines an entire offensive line with Winkler’s head taunting him about the superiority of Gatorade to ordinary water. And while it is inevitable that in the “big game” Bouchet will have to play more than his defensive role, the situation is handled with at least a passing attempt towards believability.
Ultimately Sandler succeeds in ways he could not in Happy Gilmore, through bone-crushing hits that make every teenage boy in the audience pump their fist in excitement. Gilmore’s funny but biting sarcasm has been scrapped for a voice and mind that are at best irritating. Still, Bouchet’s innocence allows the movie to avoid any mature themes at all. While the breast jokes, token Cajun hicks and multiple cameos are both boring and too familiar, watching the UL players take Wesleyan-like licks from the overgrown five year old Sandler is highly entertaining. Those who enjoy Sandler already will find him back in his element after that tepid stint as a wedding singer, but The Waterboy will probably not win any new fans over the age of 14. Then again, those old people are so, umm. . ..old!