The Ridiculous 6

Film Review by Justin Gauthier

“The Ridiculous 6,” an initial offering from the combined efforts of Happy Madison productions and Netflix Studios, ‘streamiered’ on Netflix December 11, 2015. As the first of an exclusive four-picture deal, the resulting film is proof of both a one-time comedy icon out of his depth and a boondoggle for an online studio that has much yet to prove. flyer Ridiculous 6

I fully intended to avoid, “The Ridiculous 6,” on basic principle. I didn’t want to see how badly Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy sketched Native people. I decided to watch the film as a reviewing challenge. A bit of context exposition: during early principal photography in Spring 2015, a dozen Native actors, including the cultural advisor, walked off the set of this Western spoof claiming that the script included derogatory naming of female characters along with abuse of sacred objects.

I cringed at the caveman-speak dialogue and the lazy jabs at stereotypical “Native” names. Sadly, representations of this type, especially in the Western genre, are so rife as to be an old hat to most people. Netflix defended the film by stating the word ridiculous is in the title and that it’s meant as a broad satire of Western movies and the stereotypes they popularized. It seems they believe that a title somehow gives license to propagate stereotypes that continue to harm generations of an entire group of people. Hiding behind semantics, sacrificing satire on the altar of ignorance about Native people is a blatant copout on their part. With this kind of narrow-minded reasoning in 2015, it’s no surprise that one hundred years ago, this same industry celebrated “Birth of a Nation,” (1915) as one of its first great movies. That film was a story featuring the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.

The PR reaction of both Netflix and Sandler has been a classic exercise in obliviousness. In what can only be considered a disparate yet unified front, both the streaming giant and Sandler glossed over the walkout of the Native actors. Sandler remained quiet until the premiere of “Pixels.” He stated “The Ridiculous 6” was meant to show how great “American Indians” are. Apparently, the production companies didn’t want the only prominent tribally enrolled actor in the main cast, Saginaw Grant, to get too much coverage as he is listed nineteenth on the call sheet. Sandler’s reaction, a deflection of wrongdoing behind the shield of earnest innocence is maddening in it’s naiveté. As an industry veteran and power player, Sandler is in a position to offer empowerment. Instead of evolving, Happy Madison is quickly slipping in both cultural and comedic influence by chucking up projects like the abysmal “Joe Dirt 2,” “Beautiful Loser,” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” Capping off 2015 with “The Ridiculous 6,” in my opinion, makes for the worst production year in the company’s history.

Adam Sandler has glacially evolved his brand beyond the sophomoric drunken antics of, “Billy Madison” or the unbridled rage of “Happy Gilmore” by tapping into more heartfelt material and universally identifiable characters. The out-and-out physical violence perpetrated by “Happy Gilmore” sublimated into the gruff consternation of Sonny Kofax trying to figure out how to raise a kid. Sandler strives to present us with likable heroes in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. He hits the marks his faithful know him for only when he is able to make them chuckle while sneaking borderline R-rated humor into a PG-13 package.

It could be that during the writing of “The Ridiculous 6,” Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy, longtime collaborators, fell into the trope-hole and applied the Happy Madison formula of digging deeper in hopes of finding some comedic bottom. What ends up on the screen feels less like a celebration of “American Indians” and much more like two writers who were in desperate need of some Native writers in the room as voices of dissension that would’ve, in all likelihood, made the script funnier. Inclusion of Native writers could’ve ensured lazy stereotypes weren’t merely trotted out as satire. These dated stereotypes should’ve been the straw men the writers destroyed in search of a complex, more satisfying funny.

In a particularly lazy scene, Sandler’s Tommy must sneak into a compound. “Friend with the wind,” Tommy transforms his appearance into that of tumbleweed and rolls inconspicuously past the guards, all the while rehashing his Billy Madison” dinner table gibberish as incantation. As with every other trite example of “some mystical shit” Tommy “learned” being raised by Indians, this one acts as an easy out for the screenwriters. In the third act, Sandler and Herlihy subvert the Happy Madison trope of the main character, in one way or another, being rescued by the romantic interest. Instead, Tommy must rescue Smoking Fox (yeah). Though Sandler tries to tinge the ending with compassion learned from his characters indigenous upbringing, the end result casts him as white savior, one of the most undermining stereotypes for Native People. If Sandler’s intention is to celebrate Native people, perhaps he should use his influence to back Native filmmakers, writers, and actors in their efforts to break into the industry.

Menominee Tribal member Justin Eagle Gauthier has been featured in several literary journals. He is currently enrolled in the LoRez MFA program in creative writing studying screenwriting at the Institute of American Indian Arts.