By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor J. Michael Whalen
"The Waterboy" (1998; rated PG-13)
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kathy Bates, Henry Winkler
Director: Frank Coraci
Writers: Tim Herlihy, Sandler
CHFF Rating:
(= punt; = safety; = field goal; = touchdown)
Unless you have no appreciation for the finer things in life, you've seen the Farrelly brothers' classic 1998 film, "There's Something About Mary." And when you watch "The Waterboy," another comedy originally released that same year, you'll realize that there's something about Adam Sandler.
Sandler has a likeability factor that is simply off the charts. His natural goofiness, which always seems to be sprinkled with just the right amount of sincerity, allows him to get away with things a lesser talent couldn't. "The Waterboy" is a classic example. Sandler plays the title character, Bobby Boucher, a dim-witted but pure-hearted 31-year-old who supplies water to college football players in Louisiana. Mocked, and ultimately fired, at one university, he ends up doubling as waterboy and star linebacker at a second-rate program after its head coach (Winkler) discovers Bobby has a talent for knocking people to the ground when angered by thoughts of all those who have made fun of him over the years.
Make no mistake: Sandler, who has proven in the past that he can play more serious roles, is the reason the movie works. If someone like, say, Rob Schneider (who coincidentally has a small role in "The Waterboy" as a football-obsessed townie) had starred in this film, the character of Bobby might have come off as fairly offensive. With Sandler in the lead role, it somehow comes off as funny. Which, needless to say, is exactly what it's aiming for.
Over the course of what turns out to be a dream season, Bobby somehow manages to help revive the entire football program at South Central Louisiana State University, unbeknownst to his backwoods, Cajun-country mama (Bates), who makes it clear that she doesn't want him playing "foozball." Bates, best known for her Oscar-winning turn in "Misery," initially seems to be sleepwalking through her poorly written role at times but ultimately manages to add a little spice to what could have become a complete caricature.
Along the way, Bobby is given support by the woman of his dreams, Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk, doing a mean Southern accent), as his Mudhens race toward an inevitable matchup in the "Bourbon Bowl" against Bobby's former team, the University of Louisiana Cougars, who are coached by a gleefully evil Jerry Reed. (You might remember Reed as Cletus in the "Smokey and the Bandit" movies. Well, Reed is more than just a second-string actor. He's an accomplished songwriter and musician who wrote the Elvis Presley hits "Guitar Man" and "U.S. Male" and the scores to the first two "Smokey and the Bandit" movies.)
Several past and present NFL figures lend their presence to the film, including Bill Cowher, Dan Fouts, Jimmy Johnson, Lynn Swann and Lawrence Taylor. The actual on-field footage, however, consists primarily of close-ups of Sandler (psyching himself up before tackles and then following up with said takedowns) and a few shots of no-name actors running around in circles trying to look like credible athletes. It doesn't matter. "The Waterboy" might be brain candy for the serious football fan, but in the end, it will make you feel like dessert is sometimes all you need. As if you don't feel that way already, with a six-pack and bag of potato chips by your side as you read this. Hey, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Behind-the-Scenes Cold, Hard Football Facts:
  1. The fictitious South Central Muddogs' stadium is actually the DeLand High School football field in DeLand, Fla. The high school agreed to let director Coraci use the field if he paid for the stadium to be refurbished after filming was completed.
  2. Coraci has a brief cameo in the film as Bobby's father, Robert.
  3. In the scene when the University of Louisiana players interrupt the Mudhens' party on the bayou and Balk's character pulls a knife, the patches on the sheriff's uniform say "County Sheriff." Louisiana has parishes, not counties.
  4. The Bourbon Bowl, which takes place at the end of the movie, was filmed at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., home of the University of Central Florida Golden Knights. Most of the extra fans who are in the stands during the game are UCF students.
  5. To prepare for his role, Sandler studied LaVar Arrington, now with the Washington Redskins, at practice while the linebacker was playing for Penn State University.

See the most recent CHFF review: "Rudy"