Adam Sandler would like to remind you that he's still here, and he can still make comedic magic.
Most of Sandler's recent slate of films, on Netflix and otherwise, relied on the same string of tired crass jokes, offensive gender stereotypes and exotic locations. Sparing the recent drama "The Meyerowitz Stories," the actor's performances were consistently soporific and lazy. From "Jack and Jill" to "The Do-Over" to "The Week Of" many of his films have lacked the sharpness and point of view of his classics like "Happy Madison" and "Big Daddy."
But something has clearly changed for Sandler. He's finally awake.
His new Netflix stand-up special, "Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh" (streaming now), is a stunning achievement, and the comedian's best work since his early 2000s glory days. The title winks at Sandler's relationship with critics, who have trashed many of his films over the course of his career. But "100% Fresh" might just live up to his name on Rotten Tomatoes.
The nontraditional special combines bits and pieces of performances at more than a dozen venues, allowing the editors to pick Sandler's best deliveries and the audiences' best reactions. This editing style gives the 73-minute special a jaunty pacing that never lets up, and Sandler is, happily, able to match it with an incredible amount of verve.
For Sandler fans and detractors alike, the best part of the special is undeniably Sandler's energy. The comedian appears to be truly trying, and trying something new at that. There are certainly classic Sandler-style jokes and songs, including an extended bit about "accidental" oral sex in space with a cameo from his old pal Rob Schneider. But the vast majority of the special is more Sandler-style-humor-plus; his crude tone and punchline-heavy style applied to new topics like fatherhood, marriage, aging and even Uber drivers with bad B.O.
The jokes are topical without being forced, profane without being vulgar and funny without being cringe-worthy. His joke songs, which make up essentially half the special, are likewise hilarious, but also extremely catchy – so catchy, in fact, that an audience easily starts singing one called "Bar Mitzvah Boy" during the performance.
But, most importantly, Sandler is clearly having fun. His spirit flows out of the special, and it reminds you of the Sandler we all used to love.
The musical jokes make "100% Fresh" stand out in the crowded world of stand-up specials. They have some of the simplest punchlines but the biggest impacts, thanks to Sandler's dedicated performance. In one, Sandler sings "my kid only has one line in the play" over and over, before admitting that "she got it wrong." It's basic, punchy and quite hilarious.
It's not just his humor style that Sandler tweaks for "100% Fresh." He also adds a surprising amount of genuine emotion to the proceedings, particularly in the last two songs. The first is dedicated to Sandler's late "Saturday Night Live" cast mate Chris Farley. The song manages to be both funny and heartfelt, eliciting laughs and, surprisingly, tears in equal measure. It's a remarkable accomplishment, and that's before he performs a guitar solo that would be at home at any rock concert.
The comedian also rewrites his classic "Grow Old With You" song from "The Wedding Singer," which this time he dedicates to his real-life wife. That song is also incredibly beautiful and emotional, especially so when it is matched with a montage of photos and videos of the pair of them growing old together.
In that same montage, which closes out the special, we see clips of Sandler in some of his best and worst films. He doesn't appear to be apologizing for his failures, but instead owning them and owning the fact that he has changed and evolved. If this is really the beginning of a new era for the star, it is an incredibly surprising and encouraging one.
The "Sandman" is back. And it's about time.