Adam Sandler's latest movie, "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," was a distant second in its opening weekend, which has some moviegoers asking, has the arrested adolescent lost his touch?

Well, before we make too much of this, let's remember that the film did take in $40 million. And despite being $20 million less than "Kung Fu Panda," that's still a hefty sum for the first three days.

And it's on par with what Sandler's comedies tend to earn.

Skipping his forays into more dramatic material ("Reign Over Me" and "Spanglish"), Sandler's most recent efforts opened in a similar range — "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" (which teamed Sandler with Kevin James) earned $34 million, "Click" came in at $40 million and "The Longest Yard" at $47 million.

And by the time they had finished their theatrical runs, each had topped $100 million, which remains the film industry's hit-status benchmark.

In fact, a roughly $40 million opening weekend, followed by earnings of more than $100 million, tells the story for nearly every Sandler-starring farce since "The Waterboy" a decade ago. "Big Daddy," "Mr. Deeds," "Anger Management" (teamed with Jack Nicholson) and "50 First Dates" (teamed with Drew Barrymore) are all in that ballpark.

The one exception is "Little Nicky," which pulled in $16 million on its opening weekend and fell off with $39 million at the end of its run. (Again, this is ignoring films that don't fit the profile, the more dramatic "Punch-Drunk Love" and the animated "Eight Crazy Nights.")

Critical speculation has been that "Nicky" flopped because Sandler didn't play the likable doofus that has become his signature character. But that theory may be put to rest by "Zohan," in which Sandler also tries something a little different, playing a former Israeli counterterrorist who comes to New York to be a hairstylist. (This character is not quite as obnoxious as Satan's spawn, which he played in "Little Nicky.")

Still, it's hard to figure out why "Little Nicky" is the anomaly, because it's apparent that Sandler has a hard-core fan base that doesn't care about the individual quality of his movies. They just love Sandler.

How else do we explain the really awful Sandler movies that nonetheless became hits? Is "Little Nicky" really any worse than "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" or "Mr. Deeds"? Or "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," for that matter?

Although I'm on the record as not being a fan of Sandler's films, I'm also not oblivious to his talent. He can be charming and funny, and before he became a movie star, Sandler could steal the show from more seasoned veterans. In my 1994 review of "Airheads," I singled him out for providing "big laughs" in an otherwise weak comedy.

But his penchant for the puerile, in particular scatological and sexual humor, tends to undermine everything he does. Even "The Wedding Singer," arguably his best film, is hindered by the occasional poor-taste gag.

So it is that jokes abound about "Zohan's" sexual prowess, especially with his customers, the older women whose hair he styles. (And yet another PG-13 movie that should be R.)

Maybe Sandler's man-child persona isn't an act after all. On the other hand, maybe he's simply content with his blindly loyal fan base.

And why not? Maybe that's enough. Sandler is rich. He's a big star. ... His fans love him.

And perhaps he's confident that, like him, those fans will never grow up.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com