June 24, 2010

Grown Ups

What are those video cameras doing here?

Grade: D +

Director: Dennis Dugan

Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, and Maria Bello

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

It is hard to tell whether the title to Grown Ups is ironic or just simply wrong-headed. While age figures into what passes for a plot in this cinematic equivalent of an induced coma, maturity – both onscreen and in the production room – certainly does not. Grown Ups is The Big Chill for imbeciles, starring a coterie of clowns that might fancy themselves as some comedic Rat Pack but are really just an ex-SNLers version of the Blue Collar Comedy troupe.

Then again, what else should you expect from Adam Sander’s increasingly irksome Happy Gilmore Productions and its hack director of choice, Dennis Dugan? There’s a hierarchy to the quintet of cronies starring here: Sandler and Chris Rock are top-rung moneymakers (Rock particularly ought to know better), Kevin James (blatantly subbing for the late Chris Farley) is the up-and-comer, while David Spade and Rob Schneider are hanging onto the caboose of this gravy train.

Together, they play childhood friends brought back together in their New England hometown (identified onscreen as “New England”) over Independence Day weekend upon the passing of their junior high school basketball coach. Spade is Marcus, the hopeless bachelor; Schneider plays the creatively named Rob, a New Ager on his third marriage to a granola granny wife; James is Eric, whose daughter has severe social dysfunctions and a wife (Maria Bello) still breastfeeding their four-year-old son; Rock plays house-husband Kurt to his thrice-pregnant and career-driven wife (Myra Rudolph); and Sandler is Lenny, a jet-setting Hollywood agent with a Chinese au pair, spoiled kids who order Voss water at greasy burger joints, and a fashion designer wife played by Salma Hayek. Uh, guess again which actor is also the film’s producer.

After their coach’s funeral, the five amigos plus families decide to spend a few days lounging around the lakeside lodge of their youth. Actually, they spend the time forcibly laughing at each other’s zingers, most of them thinly veiled jabs at their real-life personas – Spade is called “the third Olson twin”; the portly James is congratulated for finally reaching a B-cup. And, when they aren’t playfully jabbing each other, Sandler and Co. lean against the comic crutches they packed for the trip: children, old people, scantily-clad women, animals, white trash, and lots and lots of scatology. Of course there’s a trip to the water park, and of course there’s a gag revolving around the guys peeing in the kiddie pool. Tack on some half-written sideshow about a rematch against their basketball rivals from 30 years ago, and that’s it…that’s the “storyline.”

Even the usually reliable Rock is relegated to calling his annoying, bunion-afflicted mother-in-law names like “Toe-be Bryant” and “Toe-J Simpson.” Hardy, har, har. I did like the brief argument between Rock and opposing ex-baller Tim Meadows about who is the town’s black guy and which one is the town’s “other black guy,” a not-to-subtle reference to their erstwhile token status while cast members on SNL.

Otherwise, the jokes land with the nimbleness of lead weights. The whole sorry spectacle smacks of a money grab, with the actors getting both a paycheck and a subsidized Massachusetts vacation. Mostly, however, Grown Ups is a string of barely realized setups, with only a late, lazy stab at moralizing more infuriating than the truckload of stupid humor that precedes it. The film’s stars may be getting older, but their comedy remains as juvenile as ever.

Neil Morris

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