Today’s moviegoers know that Adam Sandler stars almost exclusively in unbearable comedies that are devoid of wit, humor, and all that is good, and that these movies are always “written” (to the extent that a sheet of paper with drool on it can be called “writing”) and “directed” (in the same sense that a traffic accident is “directed”) by Sandler’s buddies. But it was not always this way! Back when Sandler was first breaking into the film business, he sometimes had to star in excruciating movies that were conceived by strangers. Sandler had not yet acquired the clout necessary to get a film made based on nothing more than “I’ll do a funny voice and my stoner friends will point a camera at me,” which is his standard pitch today.
One of the movies he made without his entourage was “Bulletproof,” an action comedy costarring Damon Wayans. Coming on the heels of Sandler’s “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” “Bulletproof” showed that no matter who you paired him with, he was always capable of being an unfunny simpleton who would grate on your nerves and make you long for the sweet release of death.
Sandler plays Archie Moses, a low-level criminal of average competence who’s been working for the last year with Keats (Wayans), a fellow crook who helps him steal automobiles and pick fights in bars. Archie and Keats are best pals now, with a rapid-fire banter that emphasizes calling each other retarded (Keats makes two such references in the first three minutes of the movie) and generally acting like the kind of idiotic bros that other idiotic bros would find funny. (You know who you are! Actually, you probably don’t.)
But guess what! Keats is an undercover cop. He’s been palling around with Archie for 12 months in order to get close to the drug kingpin that Archie runs errands for, a James Caan-y sort of fellow named Colton who is played by James Caan. Now, at last, Keats has gained Archie’s trust sufficiently for Archie to put him in the same room as Colton, and this massive police investigation — which evidently involves one (1) undercover officer and unlimited financial resources — is about to come to fruition.
Needless to say, Archie’s feelings are very hurt when he finds out that his best friend Keats is a cop. Finding out in the middle of a major drug transaction in a warehouse as it is raided by the police only makes the sting sharper. Still, it is purely by accident that Archie shoots Keats in the head during the commotion before escaping on a motorcycle that did not exist three seconds earlier. Seriously: we cut from a shot of Archie standing near the fallen Keats to a shot of Archie zipping out of the warehouse on a motorcycle. Never mind what happens to Archie and Keats’ friendship — I want to know about Archie’s ability to conjure a motorcycle with his mind!
Let us take stock. So far this movie has given us two loud-mouthed imbeciles as main characters, and then broken one imbecile’s heart and shot the other one in the head. This would be a good place to end. Yes, the movie would only be 15 minutes long, but what a satisfying conclusion! Alas, it keeps going. Keats survives the headshot and falls in love with his physical therapist, Traci (Kristen Wilson), while Archie goes on the lam and drinks a lot before being arrested and agreeing to testify against Colton. His one demand is that Keats be the one to come escort him back to L.A. He never vocalizes a reason for this, but it is presumably so that the movie can be about the two of them having wacky adventures on the way to California. “What if we were to get lost in the Arizona desert?” Archie probably said to the police. “Wouldn’t that be funny? Come on, tell Keats he has to come pick me up.”
As expected, Colton’s men ambush Keats, Archie, and the rest of the cops at the airport, killing everyone except Keats, Archie, and the pilot of the small plane that was to fly them to Los Angeles. The pilot is hit by a stray bullet during takeoff, leaving Archie to fly the plane, which is something Archie totally knows how to do, don’t worry about it. Other bullets pierced the fuel tank, however — the bullets hit pretty much everything except their targets — and once the fuel is gone, the engines cut out, and Archie and Keats crash-land in the Arizona desert. Unhurt, they walk away from the plane, which then teeters off the edge of a cliff and explodes on impact, which is a pretty remarkable thing for a plane with an empty fuel tank to do.
Archie and Keats work out their issues as they wander the desert. Archie resents Keats for pretending to be his friend while working undercover; Keats resents Archie for shooting him in the head. Each man’s defense of “But I was only doing my job, and I actually do like you!” and “But it was an accident when I shot you in the head!” falls on deaf ears.
They bicker like the couple in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” albeit with more whining and poop jokes, and eventually stumble onto a rustic motel where they can stay for the night while waiting for the FBI to come retrieve them. (There is no such thing as local law enforcement in Arizona, I guess.) Archie engages the oddball desk clerk in some homoerotic jesting, the point of which is that homosexuals are hilarious and it would be hilarious (but also super-gross, dude!) if Archie was one (but he isn’t, don’t worry, bro!). Adding to the gay hilarity: the desk clerk says the only room available is the honeymoon bungalow! Zoing! That means the honeymoon bungalow must be the motel’s only room, period, because there aren’t any other guests at the moment, but whatever. You may well imagine that at some point Archie and Keats will be doing something in the honeymoon room that is perfectly innocent but that will cause the desk clerk, passing by the window, to think that they are having homosexual gay sexy-times, with their butts! That old comedy shtick might seem stale now, but in 1996 it was cutting-edge. It was right up there with jokes about how women be shoppin’.
Our heroes make it back to L.A. eventually, only to discover that all the cops are on Colton’s payroll, which they know because Archie recognizes their names from Colton’s ledgers. (In addition to running errands for Colton, Archie the low-level criminal apparently also did some light bookkeeping.) More bad news: Colton has kidnapped Keats’ physical therapist/girlfriend Traci and wants to trade her for Archie. That arrangement would have suited Keats just fine a couple days earlier, but now he and Archie have made amends: Archie has accepted that Keats really is his friend even though he was an undercover cop when they met, and Keats has accepted that Archie didn’t intend to shoot him point-blank in the forehead. Accidents happen, after all. Besides, the bullet to the head doesn’t seem to have had any ill effect on Keats, and now he has a steel plate that he uses to head-butt bad guys about a hundred times in the movie. Overall, getting shot in the head might have been a positive thing for him. At any rate, he and Archie are friends again now, which is one of two outcomes that you usually get when two quarreling men get lost in the desert. (The other is that they die.)
Archie and Keats team up to save Traci from Colton, which naturally means descending on Colton’s palatial, heavily guarded estate and shooting a couple dozen assorted goons and henchmen with the unlimited supply of weapons that Archie and Keats have, just because. The final twist is that Traci was working for Colton all along! Her job was to pose as a physical therapist, get close to Keats, and trick him into falling in love with her! This was all part of Colton’s plan to [ADD THIS PART LATER ONCE I FIGURE OUT WHAT COLTON’S PLAN WAS]. The real point is that the movie needed Keats to have a girlfriend so that she could be used as bait, but also needed Keats NOT to have a girlfriend so that he and Archie could run off to Mexico together at the end. Nothing can be permitted to disrupt the sacred bond of friendship that developed when Archie was stealing cars and Keats was pretending not to be a cop and lying about every aspect of his life! That relationship is rock-solid. Life evidently did not imitate art, however, as Damon Wayans has not appeared in any of Adam Sandler’s films since then, and Sandler has made about 35 of them, including three since I started writing this.