The latest Adam Sandler comedy Grown Ups is about two things: hanging out with your friends and pining for the past. That's absolutely appropriate, since those two things are what Sandler has built his entire career on. Movie after movie, Sandler goes back to the same well: hire a bunch of friends to work in front of and behind the camera and load the soundtrack up with classic songs from the '70s and '80s. The half-hearted jokes and heaping piles of sentiment are just an afterthought. None of that matters, though, as his formula has paid off over and over. His are some of the most consistently lazy comedies coming out of Hollywood, and nearly every one of them is a success. I guess Sandler's not interested in fixing what clearly isn't broken.
Grown Ups is more disappointing than most of Sandler's comedies, if only because it features an all-star cast of comedic heavy hitters (and Rob Schneider) who should at least generate a lot of goodwill, if not genuine laughs. Sandler stars alongside pals Kevin James, David Spade, Chris Rock (who seems stiff and uncomfortable, even among an ensemble of his buddies) and Schneider as a group of friends who have lost touch over the years, reunited after their beloved childhood basketball coach passes away. They spend the weekend at the cabin they spent summers at as kids. Now almost all married (save for perpetual bachelor/drunk Spade), the group tries to inspire their own kids to put down the video games and be real kids for a change, while at the same time recapturing their own youth and healing past mistakes.
If that last sentence -- the one about "healing" and "past mistakes" -- made you think I was talking about a movie other than Grown Ups, I wouldn't blame you. Like a lot of Sandler's movies, though, this one is constantly alternating between half-formed lowbrow laughs (several involving bodily fluids and other forms of waste) and sitcom sentiment, all drenched in a too-syrupy musical score. Each character has his own mini crisis, every one of which is resolved in the fastest, easiest way possible: Schneider is too distant from his daughters (two of which are supermodels, as an excuse to work in some eye candy -- as though co-stars Salma Hayek and Maria Bello aren't enough), while Rock feels neglected by his workaholic wife (a wasted Maya Rudolph) and James struggles with trying to pretend he's something that he's not. I'm not opposed to Sandler (who co-wrote the script alongside SNL alum Fred Wolf) including some of this -- what's it called again? Right; character development -- but Grown Ups isn't actually interested in giving these moments any real attention. It's shoehorned in almost as lip service against critics who would otherwise accuse the movie of being nothing but two hours of jokes.
Two hours of jokes would be great, actually, seeing as Grown Ups is a comedy. But when not superficially "deepening" its characters, the movie doesn't have them do much but stand around and crack one liners at each others expense. In that sense, it's less gag-driven and more joke-driven than the usual Sandler fare; unfortunately, very few of the supposedly biting one-liners are very funny. Like most of the movie's humor, they're lazy. It's yet another missed opportunity; there's a chance here to pull back the curtain a little and just film these comedians actually teasing one another, which I have to assume would be funnier than anything that's in the movie. Unless, of course, that's exactly what was done, which means the actors really do make each other laugh by pointing out that Kevin James is overweight and David Spade is short and Chris Rock is skinny. Oh, and black. Sandler doesn't catch much shrapnel, I guess because it's really his movie after all. He also has the least-developed character to play and scores the fewest laughs. Is that generosity towards his co-stars? Or just misjudging what's funny?
I rarely expect much from an Adam Sandler comedy, probably because I've seen enough of them to know that he's not interested in working very hard to create a good movie. Why should he? Audiences come out in droves to see whatever he puts on screen. I guess I just hoped with Grown Ups that the good time so obviously being had by the onscreen comedians would translate to us in the audience. By now, I should know better.
- Grown Ups is rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity.
- Release Date: 6/25/10
- Running Time: 102 minutes
- Studio: Sony Pictures