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'Happy': Sentimentality, Violence a Poor Mix


There's a violent streak in "Happy Gilmore" that spoils the fun in this comedy about a volatile guy (Adam Sandler, in the title role), a no-talent hockey player who inadvertently discovers his true gift lies on a golf course rather than an ice rink. The trouble with Gilmore is that he tends to resolve every conflict by punching somebody out, or worse. The trouble with the film, which Sandler wrote with Tim Herlihy, is that it suggests that Happy has to learn to curb his temper merely for practical reasons.

Beyond this, "Happy Gilmore" is in effect a straightforward live-action comedy trying to get away with cartoon-style violence that calls for a much darker tone. The result is a movie that's hard to laugh at when its hero would surely be either in jail or perhaps even a mental institution were he to behave the way he does on screen in real life.

Sentimentality and violence have always seemed to go hand in hand in American movies, and "Happy Gilmore" is no exception. Indeed, the reason why Happy allows a golf coach, Chubbs (Carl Weathers), to talk him into considering a pro golf career is that he's got to raise $270,000 to get back his beloved grandmother's repossessed house. In an instant Happy lands a spot on a pro golf tour, where his roughhouse style boosts TV ratings, supposedly attracting a new blue-collar audience.

Sandler certainly has a manic presence, one that bursts out of the confines of a mainstream movie, yet you don't feel that Sandler and director Dennis Dugan are trying for the kind of subversiveness that might just make Happy's brutal anarchy more effective. There's no sense that the filmmakers are willing to acknowledge that Happy is truly a dangerous guy.

On the plus side, Sandler has surrounded himself with good people. Christopher McDonald is amusing as the pompous, devious golf pro, a glib, oily smiler who is Happy's chief adversary, and Weathers is warm and witty. Julie Bowen is well-cast as the tour's self-assured publicist, the one person who can rein Happy in, and Frances Bay is Happy's vivacious grandmother. It's hard to understand how Happy got his nickname because he's certainly far from a happy man--until, of course, the inevitably happy ending.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for language and comic sexuality. Times guidelines: That the film avoids dealing with the consequences of casual violence warrants parental caution in this regard even more than for language or sex.


'Happy Gilmore'

Adam Sandler: Happy Gilmore

Christopher McDonald: Shooter

Julie Bowen: Virginia

Frances Bay: Grandma Gilmore

Carl Weathers: Chubbs

A Universal Pictures presentation. Director Dennis Dugan. Producer Robert Simonds. Executive producers Brad Grey, Bernie Brillstein, Sandy Wernick. Screenplay by Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler. Cinematographer Arthur Albert. Editor Jeff Gourson. Costumes Tish Monoghan. Music Mark Mothersbaugh. Production designer Perry Andelin Blake. Art director Richard Harrison. Set decorator Mark Lane. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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