I’m not so sure Adam Sandler is capable of saving himself. I’ve rarely engaged in his comedy since his SNL performances. Your basic premise that his best work shines through when he’s not left to “his own devices” is correct. For the most part, his body of work is one dimensional.
For those of us who grew up watching Saturday Night Live since it’s inception, we’ve had the opportunity to watch talented artists come and go over the years. We’ve seen comedians become cultural icons that created their entertainment identities on that stage. We’ve also witnessed other “talent” ride on the heels of their unique predecessors. They seemed to be hired to replace individual voices like John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Gilda Radner to retain the overall identity of the show over the decades.
I’ve always imagined Adam Sandler to be an attempted “offshoot” of Andy Kaufman. The similarities can’t be denied and many of their characters share a common thread. But there’s an important difference that separates Kaufman from Sandler in my opinion, which makes Kaufman the real talent and innovator in this comparison. Regardless of the path(s) Andy Kaufman lead (or on many occasions, pretended to lead) me in his truly eccentric performances, there was an overall sense of vulnerability, risk or sheer danger ( if you weren’t laughing in astonishment)— even when he fell flat on his face.
I rarely feel this with Adam Sandler, if at all. Not even close. And when he falls flat on his face like he does in his latest Netflix movie, he does just that — he falls flat on his face.