There’s no shame in releasing a movie on Netflix, not anymore. The really-quite-good Beasts of No Nation made its debut on the online streaming site, and a handful of solid documentaries also call Netflix home. The Internet has developed into a perfectly legitimate platform for launching original entertainment, but it was not so long ago that an exclusive online debut for a feature film would be the ultimate indignity for every A-lister involved. One small step above an eternity in the no man’s land of the straight-to-DVD dollar bin, a straight-to-Internet film used to connote cheap production values, malformed writing, and an overall absence of professionalism. Judging by The Ridiculous Six, the new comedy-Western spawned from the ignominious Happy Madison production house, Adam Sandler appears intent on returning Netflix to this sorry era.
Defined by the insubstantial amateurishness most frequently found on low-level Vine accounts, The Ridiculous Six practically erases the memory of the A-list Adam Sandler who starred in widely beloved, reliably bankable comedies. Everyone involved — and the count of actors too good for what’s taking place onscreen occupies both hands — takes on the appearance of a fading star desperately clinging to the last vestiges of receding fame by taking whatever work he can, even though the likes of Terry Crews and Taylor Lautner are currently enjoying the prime of their careers back in the land of the living. The performances, the script, the primitive CGI, it’s all half-assed. And what’s worse, that ass-half belongs to a donkey taking a big ol’ turd on the august Western genre, which would be a needlessly vulgar figure of speech if this film didn’t go out of its way to include so many jokes involving donkey excrement.
It, however, does.
Continuing to stumble through the fugue state that’s gripped him since 2006’s Click, Sandler makes for a dried-up and misshapen lump of clay that the film nevertheless attempts to mold into the form of a gallant Western cowboy. He goes by White Knife, having learned the skills of the blade, as well as superhuman strength, speed, and agility from the “Injuns” that raised him. The repeated insistence that Native Americans possess mystical powers is not the only racist joke the film contains (Terry Crews’ character can use his penis to play a piano, which is funny, because he’s black and black men…), but it is the most period-appropriately antiquated. White Knife has a reunion with his father (Nick Nolte) only in time for the man to get kidnapped by a gang of outlaws led by a gold-toothed Danny Trejo in one of the precious few cameos that functions as it should. White Knife has no choice but to set out on a journey to gather enough money to free his pops, a ramble through the countryside that acquaints him with five of his half-brothers, all whom join his posse in search of their shared parent. The squad’s lineup riffs on stock Western archetypes: Rob Schneider plays a quick-witted Mexican making a life north of the border, Taylor Lautner is a simpleton with a penchant for fucking cantaloupes, Jorge Garcia plays a feral Nell-type child of the forest, Terry Crews is his usual tenderhearted muscleman self, and Luke Wilson rounds out the cast as, er, the guy who can hold his breath underwater for a long time. Wilson got the short end of this already unusually short stick.
The lilting pace common of classic Westerns bring out the simplicity and serenity of life on the plains, and though The Ridiculous Six does successfully mimic it, the result is only a disjointed vibe that could’ve easily freed up some sections of this two-hour picture for the cutting-room floor. Even discounting the fake ending or the second fake ending that follows it, a scene that finds the cowpokes unwittingly stumbling into the invention of baseball complete with John Turturro taking on Abner Doubleday (let us save you a minute on IMDb; the weirdest casting is Vanilla Ice as a street-talking Mark Twain) only forestalls an already sluggish plot. You’ve got to have a little respect for flops with the self-awareness to excuse themselves after 88 minutes. The Ridiculous Six‘s two-hour run time should constitute an act of aggression.
Netflix inked a deal with Sandler and Happy Madison for four pictures, which means that any viewers with the wherewithal or maniacal death-drive to trek through what must truly be the Rocky Mountains of badness still have three more films to look forward to. Maybe the enthusiastic lambasting of this summer’s Pixels and the inevitable casting-out of this little deformity will spur the top minds at Happy Madison to get their act together and try another approach. Or perhaps the financial model of “place a visibly living Adam Sandler in front of a camera and count on someone or other to purchase the footage” will simply stay viable forever, to the point where films like these become seasonal occurrences akin to hurricanes, tornadoes, or other comparable disasters. Let’s find out together.