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LIFE AFTER 'SNL':
Huge 'Waterboy' Opening Makes Sandler a Force to be Reckoned With

By Lewis Beale

Looks like Adam Sandler won't be hauling anyone else's water for a long, long time.

The former "Saturday Night Live" star's latest film, "The Waterboy," opened this weekend to an astonishing gross of $39.1 million, the largest nonsummer opening in history. The movie's Friday-to-Sunday numbers also set some other records:

"The research showed it was going to be big, but not this big," says Marc Pascucci of Loews Cineplex Entertainment. "I think Adam Sandler made a funny film, and there doesn't seem to be anything else [out there] for the young adult demographic."

Richard Read, an entertainment analyst for Credit Lyonnais, adds: "I think Adam Sandler is a widely appealing type of guy. He can make you laugh, and people need to laugh, and there's not a lot out there that makes you do that."

Review-Proof

In "The Waterboy," Sandler plays the long-suffering title character of a Louisiana university football team. Son of a dominating mother, played by Oscar-winner Kathy Bates, Sandler's character learns to unleash his pent-up aggression, and becomes a star tackle so vicious he makes Mean Joe Greene look like Barney.

The movie opened to overwhelmingly negative reviews - Daily News critic Dave Kehr, who gave it one star, called it "a minimally inspired comedy about a gentle manchild who discovers his inner psychotic."

Yet bad notices didn't deter Sandler's core audience of young males from seeing the PG-13-rated film: Exit polls established that about 60% of ticketbuyers were males aged 12 to 25. But this group was augmented by the broader viewership that had been attracted to the comedian's last feature, the hugely successful romantic comedy "The Wedding Singer."

Across-the-Board Appeal

"You would think ["The Waterboy"] would only appeal to teens and young adult males," says Robert Bucksbaum of the exhibitor's newsletter Reel Source. "But outside N.Y. and L.A., all ages loved this film. Women and date crowds loved it and older audiences also. It's a Cinderella-type story, and Sandler really boosted his core audience with 'The Wedding Singer.' "

Industry experts also point out that Sandler's film was helped by a shortage of "must-see" product this fall. Highly touted movies like "Beloved," "Living Out Loud" and "Apt Pupil" opened to soft business.

The action crowd failed to support the Kurt Russell sci-fi flick "Soldier." And even though the controversial anti-terrorism feature "The Siege" received an enormous amount of press attention thanks to Arab-American protests, the film's opening gross of $14.7 million, while good, was not exceptional.

The Light Stuff

Reel Source's Bucksbaum, who predicted "The Waterboy" would open number one with a $20 million gross - a figure most Hollywood types scoffed at - believes industry insiders failed to learn the lesson of "Rush Hour," the Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker action-comedy that became an enormous surprise hit (it has grossed more than $125 million to date).

"People are in the mood for lighthearted fare," says Bucksbaum. "They want to see comedies, they want to go out and get a release, and ['The Waterboy'] was the perfect vehicle for it."

And Adam Sandler?

The comedian, whose best-known SNL shtick was singing nonsense verse, has now become a major player in Hollywood. No one is using his name yet in the same breath as Jim Carrey's, but, says Chuck Viane, senior vice president and general sales manager for Disney distribution arm Buena Vista Pictures:

"He is a star. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. This is just one of those beautiful combinations of timing and a star who's performing what the audience expects."

The Dough Boy

How has Adam Sanlder done at the box office? Here are the North American grosses for some of Sandler's films:

"Billy Madison" (1995): $25.4 million

"Happy Gilmore" (1996): $38.6 million

"Bulletproof" (1996): $21.2 million

"The Wedding Singer" (1998): $80.2 million.

A Sandler Summary

Name: Adam Sandler

Born: Sept. 9, 1966, in Brooklyn

Reared: New Hampshire

Education: Graduated from NYU.

Early Career: Hired as a "Saturday Night Live" writer and performer in 1990.

Best-Known "SNL" character: Operaman

Key Movies: "Billy Madison," "Happy Gilmore," "The Wedding Singer"

Quote: "I like idiot characters. It's fun to play that kind of guy: clueless people who frustrate other people."

Source: New York Daily News


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