How you feel about The WaterBoy is going to depend largely on your opinion of Adam Sandler. Indeed, those whose experience of the man begins and ends with the crowd-pleasing commerciality of The Wedding Singer may well be a little perturbed by his latest, as it marks a return to the brand of acquired taste Sandler humour which delights and annoys in equal measures (but has nonetheless catapulted him into the $20 million-a-picture brigade). Folks familiar with the likes of Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison will know exactly what to expect.
Sandler (talking in a voice that makes him sound like a deranged cousin of Donald Duck) is Bobby Boucher, a mollycoddled, virginal 31-year-old whose experience of life outside of his remote Louisiana bayou home has been restricted by his overbearing mom (Bates). His only escape is his long time job dispensing "fine quality H20" to a local football team, something he prides himself on despite being constantly tormented by both coach and players. When he is fired, he takes up the same job at a collegiate team on a major losing streak.
There, his previously untapped tackling skills (which involve mowing down players four times his size) are discovered by Coach Klein (Winkler) and he is promoted to the squad. And he might just enjoy all the attention - particularly from jailbird Vicki Vallencourt (Balk) - provided his mum doesn't find out he's actually playing.
The WaterBoy netted over $160 million in the US, and it's hard to fathom whether it's the appeal of Sandler (who still displays a certain degree of charm despite the irritating vocal tics), the appeal of American football, or the current cinematic fascination with dumb comedy. For its almost total absence of anything resembling a substantial plot, The WaterBoy performs generously in all the above departments, and coughs up far more decent jokes than you'd expect, by far the best involving another team's attempt to field a rival WaterBoy. And at just 90 minutes long, it doesn't run long enough to outstay its welcome.
It's a slight film, though, and despite Bates' frantically OTT mugging and Winkler's thoroughly likeable turn, the promisingly edgy comedy of the first act soon gives way to reams of pop video choreographed football footage, and a final reel which falls total victim to pat-happy Hollywood conformity. All of which makes for perfectly watchable, undemanding fun, but you can't help thinking that a slightly darker tone would have gone a very long way.