Feb. 16 2011 12:00 AM

Is there Hope for Adam Sandler's future?

Courtesy Photo

The reviews are in on Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston’s “Just Go With It,” and — to put it mildly — they’re not kind.

“Adam Sandler plays a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon in ‘Just Go With It,’ a fumbling comedy directed by Dennis Dugan that could have benefitted from surgical reconstruction,” sneered the Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Rainer. “How about some liposuction to siphon off all those lame jokes?”

“Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston’s romantic comedy, idiotic even by their usually low bigscreen standards, is stuffed with unpleasant narcissists saying and doing the stupidest, often cruelest things in hope of cheap laughs,” noted David Germain of the Associated Press. “An early contender for worst movie of the year,” announced Richard Roeper of RichardRoeper.com. “If they were showing this on an airplane, I’d ask for a parachute.”

Yet “Just Go With It” narrowly edged out Justin Bieber’s hyped-to-the-heavens “Never Say Never” to become the top box office attraction last weekend, with a take of just over $30 million, further proof that Sandler’s audience will show up no matter how bad the buzz on his latest movie is.

Sandler has somehow managed to become his generation’s answer to Bob Hope, another comedian whose films were regularly shelled by critics, yet still brought in audiences for four decades. That’s got to be encouraging news for Sandler, whose movie career didn’t really take off until he starred in the 1995 hit “Billy Madison.” (Sorry, Sandler haters: You may have at least another quarter-century to put up with him.)

While it’s hard to argue with success, it should be interesting to see in years to come if Sandler’s movies have more staying power than most of Hope’s. While today’s audiences may have heard of his string of “Road” films with Bing Crosby (“The Road to Morocco,” “The Road to Rio,” etc.), it’s doubtful many people under the age of 65 have watched “My Favorite Spy,” “Casanova’s Big Night” or “The Princess and the Pirate” lately. The trouble with trying to sit through most of Hope’s big hits — and the “Road” movies are textbook examples of this — is that the once-topical humor now eludes anyone who isn’t well-versed in the trends, music and celebrities of the era.

Sandler’s work may fare slightly better over the long run because it’s not quite as closely tied to the times. But when you look back on his filmography, there are already many titles that have started to fade from the memory:

Although “Mr. Deeds,” “Anger Management,” “Click” and his abysmal remake of “The Longest Yard” all made money in theaters, they’re not likely to be remembered any more warmly than Hope’s “They Got Me Covered” or “The Great Lover.” Conversely, Sandler’s stabs at seriousness, “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Reign Over Me,” did not do much business initially, yet they’ve built up followings over the years.

As for what the future might hold in store for Sandler, let’s look at what happened to Hope. His box office appeal began to dry up in the early 1960s, not long after he’d had a couple of hits co-starring Lucille Ball, “The Facts of Life” (which is one of Hope’s better films) and “Critic’s Choice.” He soldiered on through the decade in forgettable stuff like “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!” and “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell” before finally concentrating on his USO tours and frequent TV appearances — he hosted the Academy Awards numerous times and made guest appearances on everything from “The Golden Girls” to “The Howard Stern Show.” He passed away in 2003 at the age of 100, having never really gone out of style. Even younger audiences who did not know much about his brand of comedy knew he was an icon.

That should give Sandler something to shoot for.