There are movies out there that have commanded a cult following that I just cannot agree with. "Billy Madison" is one such film and no matter how many times I watch the Adam Sandler film, I just don't get why it is so damn popular. I'm a person that argues until I'm blue in the fact that "Waterworld" is a modern classic and I think "Mystery Men" is grossly underrated and in desperate need of a sequel. I'm not sure if this invalidates any respectability I have in the DVD review community, but I love those two movies and although I can sit through "Billy Madison," I can't necessarily say that I like the Tamra Davis directed picture that finds Adam Sandler giving a performance that is too similar to other performances he has given in films such as "Happy Gilmore."
Indecipherable screams, mumblings and childlike behavior is the best way to describe "Billy Madison," a film that definitely feels like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. I'm not saying that Sandler isn't funny in the film, because he has more than a number of hilarious moments in "Billy Madison." The complete final product, however, feels horribly repetitive after seeing a few other Sandler films and the imaginary penguin jokes continue to completely escape me in having any true comedic value. I still scratch my head towards the relevance of a large penguin suit appearing throughout the film and imaginary friend jokes can be funny, but why Adam did you choose a friggin' penguin? If he said "Doo-bee-doo-bee-doo!" and offered a light beer, then I might laugh.
Adam Sandler is a man-child, Billy Madison. He is grossly immature, rude, crude and flat-out loud. His near infantile behavior and complete inability to act as a grown-up or show any intelligence creates a problem when his father Brian Madison (Darren McGavin) decides it is time to retire and feels the need to pass his Fortune 500 company off to his idiotic son. When the father's decision is questioned by his business partners, he decides to pass on giving Billy control of the company. However, Billy makes a bet with his father that he can complete all twelve grades in twenty four weeks and prove that he is dedicated, intelligent and capable of running the company. If Billy can get through this educational test and succeed, then he can show he isn't an idiot and take control of the company.
Billy quickly moves through the grades, but stumbles when he reaches the class of the lovely Veronica Vaughn (Bridgette Wilson) and his hormones begin to conflict with his desire to pass the educational task ahead of him. Vaughn is at first appalled by Billy, but inexplicably becomes romantically involved with Billy. The film tries to pass this change of heart when Billy pretends to piss his own pants to help a boy get around potential ridicule when he actually does wet his pants. After Billy is portrayed by the media as being a cheat when Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford) talks Principal Max Anderson (Josh Mostel) into lying about Billy, he must rally and face Gordon's assault and attempt at taking over the company.
"Billy Madison" was Adam Sandler's first picture. It is his weakest offering and not nearly as entertaining as later films where he recycled his same shtick and gimmicks. Sandler has evolved into a capable comedian and it is refreshing to know that he was capable of more than what was shown in "Billy Madison." The film has a few funny moments and Bridgette Wilson was easy enough on the eyes to provide a small escape from the film's horribly done romantic sub-plot. I can recommend a handful of far superior Sandler comedies, but this first outing by the actor is a cult classic and regardless of what I can say against this movie, fans are going to continue to love it.
It is hard to believe that Adam Sandler has only been in film for a dozen years now as a leading man. "Billy Madison" dates back to 1995 and its high definition debut on HD-DVD was a low budget film at the time and doesn't look about as good as other films from the same time period, especially considering its low production costs. The 1.85:1 film is mastered with the VC-1 codec and shows very colorful and vibrant hues that nearly jump from the screen. This is a bright film and the classrooms of Billy Madison's early grades are about as full of color as you can get. Detail is good, but the film never feels as deep as HD-DVD is capable of and never looses its two dimensional feeling. There is a number of scenes with film grain and it is never distracting, but betrays the film in hiding its age. The source materials are clean, but a few blemishes can be found through the films 90 minutes.
"Billy Madison" rises above its low-budget beginnings in the visual department, but the sound quality of the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack is at best flat. Cheap comedies from the mid-nineties just didn't have a lot of oomph to their sound design. "Ace Ventura" is an exception, and this is no "Ace Venture." Almost all of the film's sonic presence is contained in the front three channels. There is a little activity in the rear surrounds, but this is almost entirely dialogue driven and mixed with a little music. Culture Club's "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" may be the high point of the soundtrack and that occurs during the very early moments of the film. The mix is still clean and each word is about as easily understood as Adam Sandler can be in his early films.
There is not a lot in the "Extras" column for "Billy Madison," but the title is given a lot more love than "Happy Gilmore" was given. The longest and most in-depth feature is the Feature Commentary by Director Tamra Davis. Davis is a personable woman and she does provide a good amount of making of tidbits, but she spends an equal amount of time gushing over Adam Sandler. It is not a bad commentary, but I struggled sitting through just the first half hour of the track. The six Deleted Scenes (32:53) are lengthy. There is more penguin humor, more infantile humor and a lot more Adam Sandler. The better bits were left in the film, but if you want to sit through more Sandler, this is your opportunity. The Outtakes (3:43) were short and forgettable.
"Billy Madison" is a film that will sell to the masses that worship Sandler in this dozen year old picture and regardless of what I say against the film, it won't matter to anybody that wants to purchase the film on HD-DVD. Adam Sandler has made so many decent and good films, that it is hard for me to recommend this stinker. It has its funny moments, but as a whole is difficult to sit through and it's horribly weak plot and childish jokes get old fast. The picture quality is good, but sound is quite flat. Supplements are better than nothing, but only for the most hard-core Adam Sandler fans. I love Sandler's "The Wedding Singer" and "Waterboy." I can watch a number of his other early comedies and feel most of his more recent stuff is very good (save for "Little Nicky"). I'd recommend you skip this one, but if you love the film you are not going to want to pass up the HD-DVD release.