It only takes one visit to IMDB to realize how truly subjective movie comedy can be. I checked out the site's user rankings of 'Happy Gilmore' in preparation for this review, and comments ranged from "The stupidest movie I've ever seen!" to "The greatest movie comedy of all time!" While 'Happy Gilmore' is nowhere near as bad nor as good as those love/hate comments might suggest, your reaction to the movie will likely hinge entirely on just how much of Adam Sandler's over-the-top comic delivery and relentless slapstick you can take.
I suppose it is safe to say that the plot of 'Happy Gilmore' matters little, but here goes. Gilmore (Sandler) is like the Forrest Gump of golf, only with a temper. He still lives in his grandmother's house, driving golf balls with the clubs of his late, beloved grandpa. He's got talent and heart, but little motivation. But when the IRS moves in on grandma and Gilmore must move out, he hatches a plan to hustle golfers at the local driving range. Quicker than you can say 'Caddyshack,' Gilmore is taken under the wing of old golf pro Chubs Petersen (Carl Weathers), and falls in love with PR girl Virginia Bennett (Julie Bowen). The club's annual tourney is also coming up, with a considerable cash prize that will get grandma's house out of hoc. But Gilmore must do battle with champion golfer Shooter McGavin (Christopher MacDonald), who is the only person standing in the way of victory for Gilmore.
'Happy Gilmore' is, like 'Caddyshack,' one of those movies that is all about the craziness of its characters, not the humor inherent in its situation. Why is Chubs a one-arm golfer whose hand was bitten off by an alligator? Because it's funny, not because it makes sense. And Sandler knows this more than anyone -- he's pretty much made a career out of it. 'Happy Gilmore' was only his second starring big-screen vehicle (after the 1995 sleeper 'Billy Madison') and he seems to be going for broke. Personally, I find a little of his manic mugging goes a long way, but even I couldn't stop myself from laughing at some of his antics here, even when the script was lacking.
My only real reservation with 'Happy Gilmore' -- and I'm probably taking it way too seriously -- is that Sandler has a propensity for picking characters prone to violent outbursts. I know, I know, it is only a comedy. But I remain numb to most slapstick, and don't really understand why people whacking each other is supposed to inherently funny. Perhaps the appeal of Sandler to the masses is that most of his characters all suffer from an intense, barely-containable hostility -- something the "angry white man" of blue collar America can certainly relate to. But because Sandler's commercial appeal has so far largely been to middle-class sensibilities, it is not something I'm really that into. But maybe I'm a hypocrite, too, because I admit to laughing uproariously to the now-infamous scene of Sandler kicking the shit out of Bob Barker. I guess any film that features the violent pummeling of the uber-smug "Price is Right" host can't be all bad?
Released twice before on standard DVD, Universal's first edition of 'Happy Gilmore' was a crappy pan & scan version that didn't look much better than VHS. Then they finally re-issued the disc in 2001 in widescreen, which though a considerable improvement, was hardly a reference-quality transfer. Now Universal continues the trend with this HD DVD, which looks perfectly fine but is certainly not going to win any awards for excellence in high-definition.
Let's face it, 'Happy Gilmore' was never meant to be a visual tour de force. The film has that bright, flat, TV-esque look that gets the job done but lacks any sort of unique aesthetic style. The source print here is in good shape but still dirty in spots, with frequent blemishes that are only more noticeable in high-def. Blacks are good, however, with the image boasting better-than-expected contrast. Sharpness is also fine, with only a few shots suffering from noticeable softness. Still, the image lacks real depth, and in general is pretty flat and two-dimensional. Other positives include fairly solid color reproduction with nice, even fleshtones. In the end, 'Happy Gilmore' looks perfectly nice, but hardly seems like the kind of film made to show off the capabilities of the HD DVD format.
Like the transfer, 'Happy Gilmore's audio is hardly the kind of gangbusters soundtrack that screams home theater. Even the DTS track first included on the special edition DVD release couldn't do much to enliven the film. So it goes with the HD DVD. The Dolby Digital-Plus track included here is again perfect serviceable, but offers little in the way of real sonic excitement.
However, I will say that comparing the Dolby Digital-Plus track here to the ordinary Dolby Digital 5.1 track (and, to a lesser extent, the DTS mix) on the standard DVD does reveal some noticeable improvements. The old Dolby track has a surprisingly brittle and harsh sound, with tinny high end and a lack of low bass oomph. The Dolby Digital-Plus track, however, sounds a bit more full, with nicer highs and a more expansive, warmer mid-range. Low bass is also a tad stronger. Improvements aside, there still is not a great deal of surround action going on in 'Happy Gilmore,' so the mix is never particularly enveloping. There are a few instances of localized effects in the rears, as well as some directionality to the score, but otherwise this is a primarily front-heavy, dialogue-driven mix.
Apparently, back in 2000, Universal's idea of a "Special Edition" on DVD meant some deleted scenes and outtakes, because that's all we got with the re-issue of 'Happy Gilmore.' Universal has now ported all of those extras over to the HD DVD, but that's hardly cause for excitement.
Seven deleted scenes are included, but most are so short they really feel no different than the bonus Outtake reel. But even excised Adam Sandler can be funny, and there are a few laughs here so it's worth watching for fans. And it will also take you well less than ten minutes to get through all of the extras here, so it's pretty hard to resist.
Once again, Universal continues to decline to include any theatrical trailers on their HD DVD releases. Maybe we should sick Happy Gilmore himself on them to give them the Bob Barker treatment.
'Happy Gilmore' is an admittedly funny movie, however stupid. And though it is good to see the studios begin to release more than just action movies on HD DVD, this is a curious release coming so soon after the launch of the format. The transfer and soundtrack are only adequate, and the extras definitely lacking. For $34.95, consumers should simply expect a lot more. This really should be the first budget-priced HD DVD release, not sold at a premium.