NEW YORK – What have we done to deserve three Adam Sandler movies in six months? That's what audiences may be asking Wednesday, when Eight Crazy Nights joins Punch-Drunk Love in theaters -- even as video stores feature the recently released Mr. Deeds, which opened theatrically back in June.
Mr. Deeds offers the expected Sandler brand of humor, and Punch-Drunk Love is his dark, artsy turn at romantic comedy -- but Eight Crazy Nights differs from its predecessors in one important respect: It's an animated musical.
In the Hanukkah-theme movie, Sandler provides the voice for Davey Stone, a belching, teenage hell-raiser (who resembles a younger, handsomer Sandler), as well as for Whitey and Eleanor, an elderly brother and sister whom Davey moves in with to avoid jail time for one of his stunts. (Sandler's real-life girlfriend, Jackie Titone, contributes the voice of his girlfriend in the film.)
Columbia Pictures, which has released most of Sandler's recent films, has been hiding Eight Crazy Nights from critics until tonight -- normally a sign it expects a less-than-glowing response.
But even the best reviews of Sandler's career didn't help Punch-Drunk Love, which took in a puny $16 million at the box office through last weekend -- and even reportedly prompted mass walkouts by patrons at some suburban theaters.
That still didn't deter the studio from creating a Sandler overdose at the multiplex. Experts say Columbia has been humoring its star by letting him experiment with lower-budget films in the hopes he will give the studio another blockbuster like Mr. Deeds, which grossed a surprising $125 million, or 1999's Big Daddy, which took in $163 million.
Indeed, after a cameo role in next month's Rob Schneider comedy, The Hot Chick -- which Sandler produced through his Happy Madison Productions -- Sandler will return next June in Anger Management, a big-budget comedy teaming him with Jack Nicholson.
"The studios indulge their stars if they feel they can do it without getting hurt financially," said Martin Grove, a box-office analyst for the Hollywood Reporter. "One huge commercial success makes up for an awful lot of failures, and a Hanukkah musical is not exactly a mainstream event."
Punch-Drunk Love cost just $25 million, and Eight Crazy Nights is believed to carry a similarly modest price tag.
Reel Source, a box-office tracking film, is projecting a theatrical gross of $40 million for Eight Crazy Nights, which Sandler also produced and wrote, inspired by his "Hanukkah Song."
Columbia and the notoriously press-shy Sandler aren't talking about his recent burst of celluloid activity.
But Sandler, speaking about himself in the third person on his Web site, recently vowed: "He's not gonna stop. Not gonna stop stop. He's gonna keep going until the heart attacks him."
Is that a promise or a threat?