A Sweet-And-Sour Sandler

After "The Wedding Singer," which reinvented Adam Sandler as a sensitive sweetie with an uncanny resemblance to the young Bob Dylan, and his megahit "The Waterboy," which reverted him to anarchic-moronic adolescent form, you have to wonder which Adam Sandler will show up in "Big Daddy." Well, Sonny Koufax, the upper-middle-class slacker who reluctantly discovers the joys of parenting when a 5-year-old tyke is deposited on his doorstep, is a kind of Every-Adam, designed to ring every demographic bell in the land. Sweet and sour, Sonny is like a shotgun wedding between his subversive W. C. Fields/Jerry Lewis side and his sentimental Wallace Beery/Tom Hanks Mr. Softie.

Amiable, schizoid and disposable, "Big Daddy" is just as formulaic as you might imagine: any story in which an irresponsible slob decides to adopt an orphan can be headed in only one uplifting direction. But there are enough rudely funny surprises along the way to hold your attention. Just because Sandler's Sonny makes little sense as an actual human being doesn't mean he won't make you laugh. This improbable father figure is a big kid himself, living off insurance money from a car accident. One day a week he works in a freeway tollbooth (sure, whatever), yet he's actually a law-school grad whose friends are mostly Yuppies. Woefully unprepared for the arrival of little Julian (twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse), he treats the kid like an unruly puppy: when the boy wets his bed, or throws up on the floor, he simply puts down newspapers. The same guy who can pass the bar exam pees on the sides of restaurants, insults old people and taunts his buddy's fiancee for once working at Hooters.

That's the old Adam. The new Adam, of course, is redeemed by the love of a good lawyer (strangle-voiced Joey Lauren Adams from "Chasing Amy") and his Julian-inspired awakening to Responsibility. (Where the kid ends up is the movie's biggest cop-out.) Who would have thought Billy Madison would grow up to be Mr. Family Values? Will Sandler's young male fans sit still for his bourgeois transformation? This may be the acid test for the '90s' most unexpected superstar.

Big Daddy.Columbia. Opens June 25