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Give Adam Sandler a break — let him stretch

Beloved for his comedies, the actor gets pummeled when he tries drama. Maybe it's time audiences eased up.  By Stuart Levine
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

I’m very excited to see the new Adam Sandler movie, “Reign Over Me,” for one big reason: It’s not an Adam Sandler movie.

In other words, this one’s not geared for 12-year-old boys who’ll collapse in laughter at the sight of any and all bodily functions. “Reign” is for adults (the story centers around a man trying to deal with the grief of Sept. 11) and I credit Sandler for stepping out of his financial wheelhouse for a chance to do something that won’t be nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award.

Trapped in a high-class prison that pays somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per movie, Sandler has made a nice living headlining such teen fare as “Mr. Deeds,” “Big Daddy,” “The Waterboy” and Those type of movies have almost become something in Hollywood that’s rarely seen — a sure thing at the box office — with a combined domestic gross of nearly $600 million.

Even though I don’t know know Sandler personally, I can imagine that even with this kind of box office dominance, he doesn’t want his legacy to be solely about how much money he and his films have earned. As any actor worth their chops, he’d like to be take seriously for his craft — for parts that make audiences and critics take notice — and not being labled a funnyman only

He has tried making the move before, somewhat successfully. Though “The Wedding Singer” certainly made us laugh on occasion, the film that co-starred Drew Barrymore was somewhat serious at its core. And then there’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love,” in which Sandler plays an emotionally beleaguered brother of seven sisters who falls for the charming Emily Watson.

Audiences had no interest in seeing this side of Sandler in “Punch-Drunk Love,” despite some highly favorable reviews. Roger Ebert said, “The film is exhilarating to watch because Sandler, liberated from the constraints of formula, reveals unexpected depths as an actor.” High praise, indeed.

Even in the mostly awful Sandler is a bright light, shown he can carry a dramatic role on an ever par with anyone else in the cast, even when the rest of the film is falling apart.

Carrey, Murray, Ferrell want to stretch
Another actor who’s had a difficult time making the transition from comedy to drama is Jim Carrey.

Carrey’s done some terrific work in films such as “The Truman Show” (where many thought he’d get an Oscar nomination) and the Andy Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon,” both of which he won a Golden Globe for best actor. Plus, he did a serviceable job in the quirky

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Yet, while “Moon” never made a dent with audience, “Truman” (which came out a year earlier) was a bonafide hit at $126 million — and should’ve rightly given Carrey enough industry cred to be able to carry a drama as well as a comedy in the eyes of casting directors, producers and studios.

But “The Majestic” quickly put an end to that. The Frank Darabont-directed movie was an ode to Frank Capra that played way too sentimental. It was a complete bomb and, some might say, the fallout is still being felt today.

And now there’s the current release another misfire from New Line Cinema that’s earned a paltry $33 million after four weeks of release. The thriller had plenty of marketing muscle but audiences wanted no part of it.

Despite the box office failures of non-comedies from Sandler, Carrey and Will Ferrell (Marc Forster’s was an absolutely charmer but fell through the cracks when Sony released it in the midst of Oscar season), reviews have often been strong for their films. So it’s important not to blame the actor but, instead, scold moviegoers for not allowing their favorite stars to branch out. Just because they do one thing extremely well is not reason for saying that shouldn’t be allowed to do anything else. McDonalds sells a million hamburgers — does that mean they shouldn’t be allowed to sell shakes and fries, too?

Even the great Bill Murray has felt the need to grab a paycheck in a sure-fire comedy. After stupendous turns in such wonderful films as “Mad Dog and Glory” and “Lost in Translation,” Murray — who many consider the most prolific comic actor of the modern era — still feels the need to earn some easy cash in not only but then the sequel as well, Hey, a man’s gotta feed his family, right?

On a side note: Murray, after an early 1980s hot streak of “Caddyshack,” “Stripes,” “Tootsie” and “Ghostbusters,” decided to go waaaaay against the grain by starring in the adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel “The Razor’s Edge” about a World War I vet who looks for new meaning in his life. The film was completely rejected by audiences. “Ghostbusters” had come out only four months before and earned $238 million. “Edge” made just over $6 million. So much for the Murray fans who were willing to see him in something out of character. The box office numbers prove they didn’t even give him a chance.

The transformation of Tom HanksThough there are probably several, the one actor that I can think of who made a complete 180-degree transformation from actor known to making us laugh to one who can bring us to tears is Tom Hanks.

Though it’s easy to forget now, Hanks began his career in the sitcom “Bosom Buddies” (dressed in drag, no less) and then in the winning comedies “Splash” and “Bachelor Party.” He could’ve easily stayed on that path but after starring in a slew of mediocre comedies like “The Money Pit,” and “Joe Versus the Volcano,” and then megahits such as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “A League of Their Own,” he decided he would dedicate himself down the dramatic path.

So along came “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan” — with “Apollo 13” in there as well. Granted, not all actors wanting to make this transition get the benefit of working with writers and directors that have the caché of Jonathan Demme, Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, respectively, but it was a move, nonetheless, that could’ve backfired.

Audiences are now willing to view Hanks as an actor who, with the right material, of course, can do any genre.

Will they say the same about Sandler in the years to come? At this point, it’s impossible to guess, but here’s hoping that with enough money in the bank to last several lifetimes, he won’t feel obligated to keep making us laugh. I would prefer a good cry myself.

Stuart Levine is a senior editor at Variety. He can be reached at .