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November 12, 1998|SERGEI PIANELLA

What: "The Waterboy"

If Adam Sandler's ballad of the lonesome kicker had you chortling through the halftime reports of "Monday Night Football" last season, then the bellwether for his latest feature-length effort "The Waterboy" tolls for you.

Once again taking up alms for luckless outcasts everywhere, Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a 31-year-old, seemingly dim-witted "water distribution engineer" for the top-ranked college team in Louisiana. Going diligently about his duty--he dispenses distilled, spring and rain varieties--it's his unofficial role as whipping boy that gets him fired by despotic Coach Beaulieu (Jerry Reed) for distracting the players with their pranks.

Finding little comfort in the bayou shack he shares with his protective, personality-stifling mother (Kathy Bates) or in her amphibious home cookin', he manages to land a similar, non-paying job with the hapless South Central Louisiana State College Mud Dogs. But when their similarly inept Coach Klein (Henry Winkler) discovers that a suitably angered water boy can morph into a head-hunting, tackling machine, he promptly promotes him to starting linebacker. All he needed was a little positive visualization.

With his usual smirk trademarked over a hangdog expression, Sandler seems to have misappropriated some of the charm that made "The Wedding Singer" a surprise hit. All he, director Frank Coraci and writer Tim Herlihy do here is take more divots out of a sports movie formula. Yet another tale of lovable loser/underdog turning team around, getting the girl (here an inexplicably nefarious Fairuza Balk), facing some carefully stacked adversity and attaining eternal respect by the time the credits roll.

"The Waterboy" is an amusing sketch idea that's staked out in the sun too long and stretched into a film. That's not to say it isn't funny in parts; the cast is rounded out by a motley collection of misfits and swamp rats and Sandler scores with some of his gags. The requisite sports figures--Jimmy Johnson, Bill Cowher, Lynn Swann--and sportscasters Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, Brent Musburger and Dan Patrick clock in to earn their SAG cards with several stiffly executed punch lines, while the cheapest laugh of the movie goes to Lawrence Taylor and his ill-timed joke about the dangers of doing drugs.

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