Perhaps the most outrageous thing about Frank Coraci’s The Ridiculous 6 is that it’s not that outrageous. This 2015 comedy western was released by Netflix and was the subject of considerable controversy, with news reports emerging of Native American actors having trouble with some of the attempts at satire and humour.
Regardless of things behind the scenes, The Ridiculous 6 is kind of an interesting project. It features a screenplay by Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy, with cinematography by the prolific Dean Semler. Sandler leads a cast of the usual suspects, but he’s not playing an exaggerated or shouty version of himself. That’s one of many small mercies.
Sandler is Tommy Stockburn, a man raised by Native Americans as “White Knife” because of his proclivity to use blades. He is in love with Smoking Fox (Julia Jones). A man named Frank Stockburn (Nick Nolte) comes by his village and reveals himself as Tommy’s pop. He’s dying and has $50,000 he wants to give to his son, but a group of bandits wants it first and snatches the old man.
White Knife goes out to rescue his father and comes across five half-brothers, including Ramon (Rob Schneider), Lil’ Pete (Taylor Lautner), Herm (Jorge Garcia), Danny (Luke Wilson), and Chico (Terry Crews). The group teams up and works to obtain money to give to the gang who kidnapped their dad, bonding and learning about life and stuff in the process.
The cast of The Ridiculous 6 is stacked to the rafters, with the likes of Nick Swardson, Will Forte, Danny Trejo, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Jon Lovitz, John Turturro, and Whitney Cummings showing up. Vanilla Ice also plays Mark Twain, which is theoretically one of the biggest slices of raw irony in the movie.
As mentioned in last week’s insanely popular review of Lightning Jack, “it’s hard to get a western comedy just right.” For Sandler, it’s hard to get almost anything right. The challenge, therefore, goes double for The Ridiculous 6. Interestingly, Sandler and Co. meet the challenge in a surprising way.
The movie is rather straightforward, for starters. There’s less actual humour than one would imagine and the screenplay traipses its way through periods of standard western stuff. Every so often, the filmmakers seem to remember that the film is supposed to be “ridiculous” and they toss in a shitting burro or a decapitation gag.
Of course, the forthrightness also means there are a lot of asides. The movie runs nearly two hours and takes a lot of sidetracks to get to wherever it’s going, which means Turturro shows up inexplicably as Abner Doubleday. Doubleday allegedly invented baseball and The Ridiculous 6 allows the combat general his due in an overlong segment that points out some of the more pointless rules of the game.
Along with the meandering stuff and the straightforward stuff, The Ridiculous 6 has its fair share of “offensive” stuff. This is shaky ground at best, but at least Sandler’s crew evades the MacFarlane art of elucidating every gag. It still has plenty in common with A Million Ways to Die in the West, like the invisibility of women. In this corner, Cummings has the Sarah Silverman role.
Those seeking the offensive material may find plenty, from dubious stereotypes to the aforementioned inconspicuousness of women to whatever other kind of broad humour can be found. There’s even the fact that Sandler’s character engages in some “mystic shit” every time he relies on his Native American training, which is a cute way of saying he’s kind of a knife-wielding magician.
But assessing comedy isn’t about stacking up all the iffy bits and pointing the Big Moral Finger. There’s more to criticism than cataloguing fart jokes or playing to some form of self-righteous authority. In the case of The Ridiculous 6, there’s plenty of material to go around. But Coraci’s movie is more than the sum of its parts.
The Ridiculous 6 isn’t a good movie, but it’s not a bad one either. Maybe that’s more problematic, as Sandler’s first Netflix foray labours along as a lamentably safe affair without much of a taste for anything. Sandler and Herlihy have crafted actual jokes and an actual story for a change, but the end result is just too damn tame to recommend.