Sandler, king of the couch comedySandler, king of the couch comedy

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Adam Sandler may never get an Oscar, but he snagged one trophy that may carry more weight in show business today: the Redbox Lifetime Achievement Award of 2012.

The comedian's Just Go With It had triumphed among patrons of the DVD-rental kiosk chain, which named it the most popular rental of 2011.

Surprising? Especially so, considering that when the movie was released in theatres, it was only the 27th most popular movie of the year.

Twenty years into his movie career, the forever-juvenile star no longer reigns at the multiplex. But he has aged into a new role: king of the couch comedy - the movies you watch at home in sweats and not inclined to use a lot of brain cells for.

That is why his deal to release four new movies exclusively through Netflix makes sense, both for the actor and for a video-streaming company trying to get its feet wet in feature film production. But it is also why theatres, spooked by the challenge to their long-standing lock on movie debuts, may have less to worry about than it seems.

Sandler is capable of choosing interesting roles. He can do a cute romantic comedy (usually in the Drew Barrymore genre) or a quirky drama (2002's Punch- Drunk Love and the forthcoming Men, Women & Children) so stirring that critics wonder if they have underrated him.

But generally, Sandler makes, well, Adam Sandler movies - silly, farcical, scatalogical and stupid. You not only do not need to watch them in a theatre, but you would also perhaps rather not. Do you really want someone to see you going into Jack And Jill (2011)? Can you justify spending US$12.50 on a ticket for You Don't Mess With The Zohan (2008)?

People might not want to admit it, but they are definitely watching; the data says so. The Netflix deal came about because, according to the company's head of content Ted Sarandos, Sandler's movies are among the most-watched. And 2011 wasn't the only year a Sandler movie made money for Redbox.

In 2010, Grown Ups was the third-most-popular Redbox rental; ditto for the critically obliterated Jack And Jill in 2012. Sandler's Blended is the No. 2 most-rented Redbox movie of the week.

How did Sandler become the United States' secret guilty pleasure?

Like many big-screen comedians, he weaselled his way into American hearts in the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live. In the Chris Farley/David Spade 1990s, he stood out with his absurdist acoustic guitar performances of ditties such as Lunchlady Land and The Hanukkah Song that somehow spoke to his fellow Generation Xers. And then suddenly, like Bill Murray a generation earlier, he was a leading man: Billy Madison in 1995, Happy Gilmore the next year, playing slacker man-boys who triumph over adversity and win the girl. Neither movie was a blockbuster, but they gained cult followings via rentals and cable reruns. With the sleeper juggernaut The Waterboy in 1998 (an unexpected US$40 million in three days), Sandler was anointed a box-office giant.

His audience, according to surveys, was 75 per cent male and 12 to 25 years old - although the follow-up rom-com, The Wedding Singer, drew a healthier number of women and US$123 million worldwide.

And in 2001, he won critical acclaim for Punch-Drunk Love, the Paul Thomas Anderson love story about a socially awkward loner. There was talk of awards and an assumption that Sandler would play more such ambitious roles.

Instead, he doubled-down on the dumb-guy franchise. He launched Happy Madison Productions, which inflicted the likes of The Hot Chick (2002) and Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) on the world, painfully stupid comedies that made it rain at the box office and on the rental market.

Like Sandler, many of his fans now have kids of their own. And after an exhausting week of work, the idea of getting a babysitter and leaving the house seems like a tall order. Maybe the only thing fathomable is a non-taxing comedy. When that time comes, people know which actor to turn to. And they should not be embarrassed. They are clearly not alone.

 
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