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Adam Sandler has grown up — sort of

‘Click’ star tends to look for more interesting characters these days
/ Source: The Associated Press

Adam Sandler has evolved from a man-child comic who’s fond of bodily noises and fluids to an actor who’s shown a surprising interest in exploring his depth and range.

So it’s only fitting that his new movie, “Click,” is about time travel — allowing him to meld his adolescent comedy past with his more mature present.

Sandler stars as shlumpy, overworked architect Michael Newman, who’s married (to the stunningly hot Kate Beckinsale, who everyone in the movie acknowledges is way out of his league) with a young son and daughter.

An Eames chair adorns the living room of his mid-century house, but so do the kids’ colorful, plastic toys, which are strewn across the floor. He’s got the suburban lifestyle nailed, complete with a happy-go-lucky golden retriever and the obligatory traffic-packed trek to the city each morning.

Michael is a grown-up who’s stressed out about his grown-up responsibilities, and on a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond in search of a universal remote control, he ends up with a remote that controls his universe. He can zoom ahead to avoid an argument or quickly finish a project; he can zap backward to a fond memory from his childhood in the ’70s.

But it doesn’t take long for Frank Coraci (a longtime Sandler pal who also directed him in “The Wedding Singer” and “The Waterboy”) to focus on that same sweet-faced dog wildly humping an enormous plush-toy duck. And on his way to work each morning, Michael torments the bully kid next door by teasing him or backing out across one of his shiny new toys on the driveway.

Finding his inner 12-year-old boySo it seems that despite receiving well-deserved critical praise for his more serious work in films like “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Spanglish,” Sandler isn’t too far removed from the gross-out, slapstick world of “Little Nicky” and “Happy Gilmore” — comedies for which reviewers are definitely not the target audience. Just take a look at the scene in “Click” where he hits the pause button in front of his smug boss (David Hasselhoff), crawls onto the guy’s desk, sticks his butt out and proceeds to loudly pass gas in his face — for a long time.

Sandler made his name with moves like that in movies that appeal squarely to 12-year-old boys, and to men who are still in touch with the 12-year-old boy inside themselves.

After honing his jittery shtick as a “Saturday Night Live” cast member in the early 1990s, he took his boyish persona to the big screen with “Billy Madison” (1995), in which he starred as an overgrown kid who goes back to grade school to inherit his father’s fortune. Then came “Happy Gilmore” (1996), in which he starred as an overgrown kid who learns he has a talent for hitting golf balls (as well as Bob Barker).

And so began a pattern — and a career. “The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy” and especially “Little Nicky” (in which he played the devil’s bizarro son) featured Sandler doing slightly shaded takes on the same guy. That’s all we knew of him; that’s all he showed us. And the films he pumped out through his Happy Madison production company, which featured his longtime friends and fellow “SNL” alumni on both sides of the camera, in no way suggested any sort of versatility.

There was “Joe Dirt,” starring David Spade as a mullet-wearing redneck; “The Animal,” in which Rob Schneider receives transplanted animal organs; and “Master of Disguise,” a well-intentioned but disastrous display of Dana Carvey’s talent for speaking in different accents. And of course, we can’t forget “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.”

Sandler showed inklings of a paternal instinct in 1999’s “Big Daddy,” his biggest box office hit ($163 million-plus gross). But then again, this was a comedy in which a little boy’s urinary habits were central to the plot.

Sandler shows his serious sideSomehow, Paul Thomas Anderson saw something the rest of us didn’t, directing Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love” (2002) — a romantic comedy that wasn’t exactly romantic nor comedic, but allowed Sandler to prove he was capable of more complexity and depth than anyone would have imagined.

As Barry Egan, a social misfit plumbing supplies salesman stumbling through his first real relationship, Sandler was tormented, sad and achingly real. He defied expectations and earned a new and justified following.

And so began the possibility of an entirely different kind of career.

The caliber of Sandler’s co-stars improved after that: Winona Ryder in the remake “Mr. Deeds”; Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management”; Drew Barrymore in “50 First Dates.”

But it was his performance in James L. Brooks’ “Spanglish” (2004) that forced us to take a step back and appreciate anew Sandler’s dramatic abilities. As a married chef in upscale Los Angeles who finds himself unexpectedly attracted to his maid, he was restrained, intelligent and sensitive. And this time, he showed he truly could be a believable romantic lead.

All the while, though, he has continued to inflict upon the innocent moviegoing public, though Happy Madison Productions, puerile dreck like “Grandma’s Boy” and “The Benchwarmers,” two of the dozen or so films this year that were withheld from critics before opening day.

Will the real Adam Sandler please stand up?

He’s on the verge turning 40 and became a father for the first time when his wife, Jackie, gave birth to their daughter, Sadie, in May.

Here’s hoping that, now that he’s practically a grown-up, he’ll continue making choices that reflect the best he has to offer.