Friday, December 11, 2015

High Buffoon: THE RIDICULOUS 6

I can’t imagine The Ridiculous 6 will exist in the public imagination as much more than the response to a slew of trivia questions. It’s the answer to: What was Adam Sandler’s first direct-to-Netflix feature? What 2015 comedy had some of its Native American extras walk off the set in protest? What movie featured David Spade as General Custer, Vanilla Ice as Mark Twain, Blake Shelton as Wyatt Earp, and Dan Patrick as Abraham Lincoln? As you can see, the bar isn’t set too high for this Western riff starring and co-written by Adam Sandler, who continues his attempts to make comedies with as few jokes as possible. It’s part of a peculiar pattern in which a passable Adam Sandler comedy (like the nasty, gross, and more funny than not That’s My Boy) does worse at the box office than his movies that are lazy (Grown Ups 2) or lethargically offensive (Blended). At least with Netflix keeping a tight lid on their viewing numbers, it’ll be hard to say how much audiences respond to an irritatingly insensitive movie that’s mostly lukewarm Western tropes pushed a few inches further into silliness.

The plot is awfully simple. (If you think, “the better to hang a bunch of jokes on,” you’ll be sadly mistaken.) Sandler plays White Knife, a white boy raised by an Apache tribe after his mother died. He discovers his long lost father (Nick Nolte) only to find that the old man has run afoul of a mean band of bandits (led by Danny Trejo). In order to save his dad, he wanders around rounding up a Ridiculous posse of his six freshly-discovered half-brothers, the joke being that pop slept with such a variety of women in the Wild West that he’s the biological father of a diverse group of men including Terry Crews, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Jorge Garcia, and Luke Wilson. They get into arguments and confrontations in all manner of typical Western locales involving a whole bunch of actors (Harvey Keitel, Steve Zahn, Will Forte, John Turturro, and more) who must’ve decided they’d like a Netflix paycheck. No one on screen seems to care, projecting a low-energy void of interest in every direction.

Stretching out to two hours in length, the movie putters around saloons and High Noons, prairies and campfires, hangings and shootouts. Once in a while there’s a funny joke – an Apache chief says, “Sometimes the white man speaks the truth. Like one in 20, 25 times” – but mostly there’s dead air, or attempts to wring humor out of mental disabilities, musty racial stereotypes, and anatomical references (and fluids of every kind). It’s the sort of movie where Sandler’s attractive Native fiancé (Julia Jones) is named “Smokin’ Fox,” a tone-deaf, cringe-worthy hat-trick of objectification, appropriation, and ignorance. Sandler with co-writer Tim Herlihy (in their eleventh collaboration) could’ve straight-up parodied Westerns (the title clearly looks back to The Magnificent Seven and forward to The Hateful Eight) loading the frame with ZAZ-like anything-goes goofs Airplane! style. (Somehow I doubt Blazing Saddles social satire was ever within their reach.) Instead they often play things relatively straight, hoping peculiar casting, oddball characters with prominent physical traits (buck teeth, false eyes, etcetera), and disgusting gags (like decapitation or defecation) will elevate a subpar script into something funny.

It’s not actively repulsive, but the jokes aren’t there and the pace is beyond belabored. At least director Frank Coraci (who previously directed the star in Blended, Click, The Waterboy, and The Wedding Singer) provides filmmaking of a marginally less lazy type than usual Sandler fare, though not as smooth and fast as Chris Columbus did last summer with the better, but still mediocre, Pixels. More interested in looking like a Western than having good jokes, Ridiculous 6 hired cinematographer Dean Semler, whose work on the likes of Dances with Wolves and Young Guns certainly informs his widescreen landscapes here. It looks and moves like a real movie, which is faint praise, but when you’re comparing it to the inert overlit blandness of something like Grown Ups 2, it’s worth pointing out. But reasonably pleasant framing doesn’t alleviate the desert of humor so dry and slow tumbleweeds roll through with greater regularity than laughter. It's depressing and endless.

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