The Waterboy

(1998) ** 1/2 Pg-13
90 min. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Director: Frank Coraci. Cast: Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates, Henry Winkler, Fairuza Balk, Jerry Reed.

/content/films/3509/1.jpgAt the time when I first saw The Waterboy, on DVD in 1999, the flick had already been dismissed as the latest affront to screen comedy. And I was inclined to agree, finding Sandler's shambling, tight-grinned, mealy-mouthed hero annoying and the movie around him intensely stupid. They are, but on second viewing, I have to admit, The Waterboy is pretty darn entertaining.

There's an innocence to The Waterboy that makes the picture part slapstick and part fairy tale. In Jackson's Bayou, Louisiana, 31-year-old virgin Bobby Boucher is the waterboy to the University of Louisiana Cougars and Coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed). But as Bobby's smotherin' Mama (Kathy Bates) puts it, "Bobby, you don't have what they call 'the social skills.'" Despite his ultra-competence as a groveling waterboy, Bobby draws nothing but abuse from the Cougars. When the coach tires of the distraction, he fires Bobby. And so Bobby makes his way to South Central Louisiana State University, where the Mud Dogs are so unprovided that the players have to share cups—and not the kind you put water in. Coach Klein (Henry Winkler) is happy for Bobby to replace the fetid stink-bucket that is the Mud Dogs' water supply with "some high-quality H2O." Bates proves hilarious alternating between sweetness and high dudgeon, and Winkler is a revelation in this warmup for Arrested Development's even more neurotic Barry Zuckerkorn.

Bully-magnet Bobby has been mercilessly mocked since childhood, but it turns out there's an upside to his psychic pain. Push him too far (usually by maligning Mama), and he opens up a can of whoop-ass that looks a lot like a tackle on steroids. Klein spots his ticket out of the loser's circle, and promptly adds Bobby to his defensive roster. Better yet for Bobby, childhood crush Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk) starts making eyes with him again. The only problem is Mama, who absolutely forbids Bobby to play "foosball" or consort with the "devil" female of the species. Can Bobby keep her in the dark long enough for the Mud Dogs to clinch their winning season at the first annual Bourbon Bowl? As superfan Rob Schneider cheers, "You can do it!" (Among the football-themed cameos are Lynn Swann, Dan Patrick, Lawrence Taylor, Brent Musberger, Dan Fouts, and Jimmy Johnson.)

Even the Family Movie Guide at The New York Times rated The Waterboy as "mild," "moderate," and "harmless enough" even for 8-10-year-olds. Those who would never read a liberal rag like The New York Times may want to proceed with caution, but this is one Sandler movie that kids might actually benefit from watching. It's utterly unrealistic, but it does quietly score some useful points about channeling anger into athletics and the importance of wriggling out from under the influence of parents to establish one's own life. Plus there's a donkey (the Boucher's housebroken pet Steve). And the Mud Dogs' lovably incomprehensible Cajun assistant coach Farmer Fran (Blake Clark). The only problem with letting kids see this Adam Sandler movie? They might want to see another one.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/4/2009

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Though The Waterboy has zilch in the extras department (not so much as a trailer), its Blu-ray debut comes with a shockingly vibrant transfer (especially compared with the dull, soft DVD of 1999). Much of the image's impact comes from its unnaturally bright colors (which are intentional), but there's a strong level of detail and dimensionality to this picture as well, especially given its eleven-year-old vintage. Contrast and black level are good for an all-around pleasing presentation. Aurally, one suspects there's not a lot to work with in the original tracks for The Waterboy, but this disc makes the most of it with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that's not likely ever to be beat.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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