Adam Sandler is one of the most powerful entertainers in Hollywood. It seems that he can sneeze on a napkin, pitch that to a studio and the next summer it’s in the cineplexes. With so much influence, I ask: Why the hell doesn’t he hire decent screenwriters? Case in point, his latest, the ensemble comedy Grown Ups. Buried somewhere in this mess is a good idea and a lot of heart. However, the writing and the execution drain any life from the movie, leaving the film’s five stars to improvise and try to come up with funny material.
You’d think that with comedians like Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider, all of whom have done time on the stand up circuit, improvising wouldn’t be so difficult. Perhaps if the stars seemed the least bit interested in being in the movie. In watching Grown Ups, I kept feeling that the actors were kind of bored. Maybe they were having too good of a time on set, hanging out as buddies, to really get into character? Whatever the case, with that much talent on screen you’d expect more laughs.
The five men play childhood friends, having been on the same youth basketball team that won their league championship. When their old coach dies, they reunite at the funeral, seeing each other for the first time in years. Sandler is Lenny, a rich Hollywood agent with two kids who get anything they want and a stunning wife played by Selma Hayek (is it me, or does Sandler always have the most beautiful co-stars?). The funeral falls on a weekend and Lenny decides to treat his buddies to their very own Big Chill experience by renting out an old cabin on the lake where the four guys and their families can get reacquainted.
James is Eric, the co-owner of a big lawn furniture company. He’s married to Maria Bello, who still breast feeds her four-year-old son. Rock plays Kurt, a stay at home husband whose pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph) makes all the money while he cooks and cleans. Curt has to endure his nasty mother in law who thinks he’s less of a man for not being the breadwinner. Schneider (who is actually effective in the movie) is Rob, a pacifist vegan whose been divorced three times and is currently married to Gloria (Joyve Van Patten), a woman 30 years his senior. Spade is the same character he’s been perfecting ever since Chris Farley died. That is, a sleazy womanizing douche.
As the weekend progresses, Lenny realizes that his kids are missing out on some of the things he learned in life. They don’t appreciate the outdoors and simple hobbies like taking hikes and leaping from swinging tires into a lake. Moreover, his kids don’t understand the true meaning of family. For Lenny, this weekend is just as much about reconnecting with his wife and sons as it is about his old buddies. By the end of the weekend, after a trip to the water park and a basketball game between the old rivals from when they were kids, all of the families have resolved their long standing resentments and they’ve all learned a little bit about themselves. Except Spade’s character. He pretty much remains a a sleazy, womanizing douche.
There is a sweet message at the heart of this movie and I can appreciate what Sandler and his co-writer, Fred Wolf, are trying to say about the importance of family. Unfortunately whatever they were trying to say gets bogged down with gross out humor, sexual innuendo and the typical Sandler shenanigans you see in any of the films he’s produced or starred in. Furthermore, Dennis Dugan’s workman-like direction conceptualizes nearly every scene like a sitcom, making everything feel very routine. I’m sure there are plenty of Sandler and Kevin James fans out there who’ll love this movie (it did quite well at the box office) but for me, Grown Ups was a boring, unfunny movie. Making matters worse, the bonus features on the DVD were scant and added nothing to the movie.