Madagascar 3 a merry summer treat, Adam Sandler plays daddy in That’s My Boy

by Mark Burger

An utter delight from beginning to end, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted continues the winning ways of the animated film franchise. Although the Shrek films tended to get more attention, the Madagascar films have turned out to be DreamWorks’ secret weapon. They’re funnier, more flippant and more hip — and Madagsascar 3 is more of the same.

The core foursome have returned: Ben Stiller (Alex the lion), Chris Rock (Marty the zebra), David Schwimmer (Melman the giraffe) and Jada Pinkett Smith (Gloria the Rhino), and it’s a pleasure spending time with them again. Although it’s only their voices, they display impeccable comic timing yet can also put across the story’s sweeter moments.

The new film picks up where Madagascar:

Escape 2 Africa (2008) left off, with our heroes in Africa and still seeking a way to return to the Central Park Zoo in New York City. Part of the series’ charm is that the principal characters, while terribly endearing and amusing, aren’t always terribly bright. Their repeated attempts to return home frequently go uproariously wrong.

A bright screenplay by Eric Darnell (also the principal director) and Noah Baumbach brings the funny foursome to Monte Carlo the easiest way possible: by simply having them snorkle all the way from Africa, at which point the eye-popping visuals and grand-scale slapstick take over.

Pursued by fierce French animal-control officer Chantel DuBois (voiced with relish by Frances McDormand), who literally sniffs out their trail, the gang tries desperately to remain one step ahead, lest she add Alex’s head to her collection of wall trophies (most of which, amusingly enough, are of domesticated animals).

With the ever-present (and scene-stealing) penguins and monkeys also on hand, the gang becomes part of a traveling circus that has fallen upon hard times. Once again, the film’s animators deliver colorful razzle-dazzle throughout, with gorgeous animated reproductions of Monte Carlo, Rome and London during the journey.

Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter and directors Darnell, Chris Miller and Tom McGrath are among the returning voiceover artists, joined this time by Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston (who seems to be in every other movie these days) and the inestimably funny Martin Short, as the delightfully dimwitted sea lion Stefano (replete with exaggerated Italian accent).

Although irreverent throughout, Madagascar 3 doesn’t talk down to its principal audience (children and families), but it hardly ignores older viewers, either. There are plenty of gags that may well sail over the heads of small children, but they’ll probably not notice given the visual panache of the proceedings. This is the perfect movie in which to forget your troubles and simply laugh. Whether the characters make it back to New York becomes incidental, the fun’s in the journey — and there’s great fun to be had on this journey, for all ages.

That’s My Boy is the latest Adam Sandler comedy, and it’s both raunchier and funnier than most — at least until it becomes bogged down in third-act doldrums that come very close to spoiling the entire party.

Sandler is paired this time with fellow “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Andy Samberg — he of the same initials and letters and syllables in their names — and the two display some chemistry. Not surprisingly, Samberg essentially plays straight man to Sandler’s boorish, beer-guzzling, Bostonaccented antics, although he does have a few wild-and-crazy moments of his own.

Although he’s essentially playing yet another arrested adolescent (his screen specialty, for sure), Sandler here occupies the role of Donny Berger. A tabloid superstar in his teens for impregnating his teacher — she was sentenced to prison for 30 years for contributing to the delinquency of a minor (even though he was a more than willing participant) — Donny has since fallen on hard times. He’s also estranged from his son (that would be Samberg), whom he named “Han Solo” but now goes by the name Todd and claims that both of his parents died “in an explosion.”

In an attempt to re-establish contact with Todd — and perhaps make a little money on the tabloid-TV circuit — Donny seeks him out. It just so happens to be the weekend that Todd is due to marry Jamie (Leighton Meester), so Donny’s reappearance couldn’t come at a worse time for him. The last thing he wants is a reunion with a father who is less mature than he is.

By the end of the film, after a series of ribald incidents (some fairly funny), it comes as no surprise that father and son have reached a form of reconciliation. Donny has learned, perhaps none too well, a few lessons about being a responsible adult and parent, and Todd has loosened up to the degree where he can have fun. That’s My Boy isn’t the sort of film that’s particularly concerned with any message, other than trying to outdo its last gag — either by going higher or lower. (Frequently, it’s the latter.)

The film finds some hearty laughs in its unexpected casting, which includes James Caan, Tony Orlando, Susan Sarandon and real-life daughter Eva Amurri Martino (both looking spectacular, by the way), Milo Ventimiglia, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Todd Bridges, sportscaster Dan Patrick and Peggy Stewart, the latter playing a gregariously horny grandmother — which has rapidly become a staple in films like these. Best of all, in which is undoubtedly the best big-screen turn of his career, is rapper Vanilla Ice (nee Robert Van Winkle), playing himself. (Rest assured, “Ice Ice Baby” does turn up on the soundtrack.)

As can be expected, the film is steeped in ’80s and ’90s pop-culture trappings — a Sandler staple — and the obligatory scatological and sexual gags. In the case of That’s My Boy, however, shorter and tighter would have equaled better.

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