Adam Sandler plays both title characters in "Jack and Jill." (Columbia Pictures )
Maybe it's middle age. Maybe it's the pressure of success. Maybe it's the nagging crisis of how to make flatulence jokes fresh again. (Wear a dress!) But this season's Adam Sandler comedy, "Jack and Jill" — the last one, "Just Go With It," was at the top of 2011 — feels like an elementary school recess that's gone on too long, the merrymaking strained and the participants looking tired even when they're in full comic dudgeon.
Sandler in drag is the marquee gimmick this time, playing whiny, smothering and easily humiliated Bronx spinster Jill, who's come to her successful commercial-director brother Jack's well-appointed Los Angeles mansion for a Thanksgiving visit that turns into an extended stay. Jack's various reactions to the prospect of more "twin time" with sis — despair, anger, meanness — are some of the more understandable emotions in this dispiriting exercise.
It's tempting to view Sandler's double duty here, as annoyer and annoyed, as a grand comic riff on his life's work as seen by his critics. But that would charitably suggest a measure of humorous forethought typically absent from the A-lister's point-and-laugh approach to mockery and monastic belief that his raspy screaming — now in two flavors: high-pitched and higher-pitched — is inherently funny.
Men dressing up as women is rarely high comedy, unless sexual politics are being addressed outright, as in "Some Like It Hot" or "Tootsie." Sandler's Jill is straight out of his vaudevillian approach to female caricature, however — was Rob Schneider too busy? — and it says something that the only other substantial female character is the requisite pretty-and-nonthreatening wife played with sitcom-spouse efficiency by Katie Holmes.
When it comes to women in Sandler's world, he only sees extremes: hot or not, worthy of putting on a pedestal or getting hit with one. In the wake of "Bridesmaids," Sandler's lipsticked tomfoolery — and inability to share the screen with genuinely funny women — feels particularly regressive and stale. Both movies have diarrhea gags, but only one feels defined by such humor.
The boys' club ethos extends to the celebrity cameos too. Of the dozen or so on tap — which include Shaquille O'Neal, Johnny Depp, Regis Philbin, John McEnroe and Jared from the Subway ads — only one is female, and Christie Brinkley doesn't even get her own laugh line.
Then again, what the famous-faces parade more often suggests than gender inequality is a road trip time-killer meant to keep bored passengers from falling asleep. Same goes for the product placement, which includes a lovingly filmed Royal Caribbean cruises interlude that indicates director Dennis Dugan is the real commercial guy in this production.
What to make of Al Pacino, then, who plays "Al Pacino," flamboyantly theatrical, more than a little batty, and hot for Jill? There's a slight whiff of dinner-for-schmucks game-playing to his participation here, but Pacino has been a drag version of Pacino for so long now he somehow fits into Sandler's piñata party approach like a glove.