Big Daddy proves that Adam Sandler wrote the 'Acting Made Easy' book. Sandler, who glides through yet another role with high quotients of ease and likeability, almost makes sitting through this often funny but wholly uninspired comedy pain-free. While upscale and older audiences won't be tempted to pay this Daddy a visit, the comedy's targeted gaggle--essentially young male filmgoers this time accompanied by their female companions--will have a good time and spread the word. Like Sandler's previous winners (The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer, etc.), Big Daddy should pocket solid b.o., though breaking the magic $100 million--despite bright predictions from other corners--looms iffy.

In this current Columbia Pictures installment, Sandler, who again collaborates with perennial co-scripter Tim Herlihy, plays New York slacker Sonny Koufax, a guy's guy who loves sports, the ladies, junk food and loafing around with his buds while failing to leverage his Syracuse law degree into a real job like the others in his crew.

By way of circumstances familiar to Hollywood dream-makers, Sonny's idyllic bum's life in a spacious but messy Manhattan loft receives a serious jolt when five-year-old Julian (Cole and Dylan Sprouse) lands at his metaphorical doorstep. The kid is actually the by-product of a one-night stand enjoyed by roommate Kevin (Jon Stewart), who is off to China on a lawyering gig.

Sonny takes charge of the kid by convincing a social worker (Josh Mostel) that he is Kevin. With Julian under his wing, Sonny attempts more bonding with than training the child, taking him on excursions into bars, fast-food joints, etc. Along the way, audiences, predictably, are treated to an avalanche of jokes about bodily functions (urinating is a big winner over vomiting), Hooters waitresses, and other child- and young audience-friendly subjects.

During his odyssey with Julian, Sonny loses his girlfriend to a more responsible and much older guy, further bonds with his delivery boy pal (Rob Schneider) and connects with perky lawyer Layla (Joey Lauren Adams), but continues to infuriate his lawyer father (Joe Bologna), who wants his son to have a real career. Of course, as Big Daddy plays out, the social worker closes in on Sonny's scam, Sonny finds romance because of his heightened sensitivity to parenting, and a court threatens to take Julian away from Sonny.

However simplistic Big Daddy is, it is also easy viewing. The film also surprises with its unexpected big boost in favor of loving parenting and other 'family values,' gay rights and ethnic tolerance. Two of Sonny's best buddies from law school are a couple (their kiss in the early frames will jolt certain audiences) and Schneider's Third World delivery boy often hangs with Sonny in front of the slacker's TV as the two shovel food, watch sports, and break down entrenched class barriers that, offscreen, will carry into the new millennium.

So if Big Daddy, doggedly following the rules of escapist entertainment, is far from the real world, at least the world view it proposes is often a worthy one.

--Doris Toumarkine