Here's about where Sandler really started getting on critics' nerves, and audiences started to get a little bit split on whether or not Adam Sandler was funny or annoying. Being 1998, and being that I was 16 at the time, it was still very much up my alley, and to this day, I have an appreciation for it, and it still gets a good laugh from me when I watch it. It's not quite in the classic vein like 'Billy Madison' and 'Happy Gilmore', but it stands on its own, featuring honestly one of the more charming characters he ever plays.
As the film opens, we're introduced to the kindly but seemingly mentally disabled Bobby Boucher (Sandler); the water boy for the University of Louisiana's football team, the Cougars. The team bullies him, but he takes it because all he cares about is whether or not the team is hydrated. So just to forewarn audiences, there's definitely a mean-spiritedness to the film. But don't worry, without spoiling anything, it does lighten up significantly by the end. However the film does start with his being fired by the team's coach, Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed), as he's such a distraction to the team.
Bobby lives with his strict and overprotective mother, Helen (Kathy Bates) who explains her overprotectiveness away with the story of Bobby's father, Roberto (Frank Coraci) who apparently died of dehydration in the Sahara Desert while serving in the Peace Corps before Bobby was born. Even in such a goofy comedy as this, Kathy Bates is one of the best things about it. You believe she loves and cares for Bobby in such a way that it's almost disturbing. In some ways, she brings a bit of her 'Misery' role to the character; ready to kill anyone who messes with her son.
Bobby eventually finds a job at South Central Louisiana State University, working for the failing and depressed Coach Klein (Henry Winkler), once again playing the role of water boy. Once the new team starts to dig into him a little, Bobby finally snaps and tackles one of the team members with such force that Klein asks him to play on his team, the Mud Dogs; a team on a forty game losing streak with a handful of alcoholic cheerleaders who have given up.
While the main plot revolves around Bobby's newfound football career, there's a whole subplot involving Bobby torn between doing what makes him happy and following the demands of his Mother. While overbearing, she is one of the only people who care for him. But she soon finds competition in Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk), a rebellious, tough southern girl who has a bit of a thing for Bobby, mostly just because he's such a sweet guy. The real clencher to the whole thing is that Bobby sees Vickie and plays football behind his disapproving mother's back.
As mentioned before, one thing that sort of stood out to me this time was just how mean-spirited things got with it. Nowadays, I would think the filmmakers would have trouble getting it off the ground because a lot of it has to do with people making fun of someone with a mental disability. On the other hand, it's not like Bobby doesn't come back with a perfectly decent revenge plan, somewhat equivalent to finally punching that horrible bully of yours right in the nose. These bullies get what they deserve, no more, no less.
Again, it bears mentioning that it all ends very positively, and it's kind of a good movie for several different types. If you are a jerk who picks on people, here to watch Sandler, you might learn something. If you're an overprotective family member, you might learn something. If you're the person getting picked on, you might learn something. It's another very split movie where Sandler fans love it for what it is while critics pan it just because it's predictable, harsh and stupid. It is all of those, but it's also a lot of fun, clearly not to be taken too seriously, and most of the laughs you get aren't actually at Bobby's expense. It's just a solid underdog flick done in classic Sandler fashion.