Review: Grown Ups

Adam Sandler’s movies have almost always had a family element if they weren’t a major part of the story (parental responsibility in 1999’s “Big Daddy,” father-son relationship in “Billy Madison” and “Little Nicky”). But lately, especially since the birth of his first daughter in 2006, it’s begun to drastically shape his film choices. It started with “Click” in 2006, a story about appreciating family moments, and continued especially in 2008 when he teamed with Disney for “Bedtime Stories.” The emotional sweetness of family life has been a major force in Sandler’s work, but his patented insult and immature humor has not budged over that time. The latest result of that combination of family love and dirty adult humor is “Grown Ups.”

Despite pooling together the talents of long-time Sandler friends and collaborators Rob Schneider, Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James, “Grown Ups” is an aimless comedy that amounts to a string of recurring jokes and improvisational insult humor with a 50-50 success rate. One shouldn’t expect much else from a Sandler movie, but it’s the plot and attempt to be more family-centric that dampens the humor.

The movie focuses on five old friends, each with some quirky character concept (Rock’s a stay-at-home dad, Spade is a single man-whore, James is fat …) who come together years later after the junior high basketball coach who led them to a state championship passes away. They spend the weekend together with all their families at a lake house and do various activities, some funny, some not.

That about does it for plot, which ends up as the ultimate problem with “Grown Ups.” Each character has a back story that influences how they behave and such and what they learn by the end of the film, but nothing pushes this movie along except the jokes that Sandler and co-writer Fred Wolf whip up.

“Grown Ups” survives solely on serving up these jokes of all kinds from creative insults (“you look like a midget Elvis”) to physical humor (a few fart jokes and a couple kicks to the groin are examples). Their hope is that at least the majority will get laughs, which works well enough for the first hour, even though some of the recurring gags get sucked to death until they’re completely dry, such as Maria Bello, who plays James’ wife, breast-feeding her four- year-old son. If you enjoy Sandler’s humor, the early barrage of jokes delivers enough decent laughs despite how contrived and even predictable his style has become.

Interestingly, the family element looks like it could work toward the beginning: Sandler tries to convince his two boys to stop playing video games and texting and behaving like rich snobs, something recent movies seem to forget in their depiction of today’s kids. Family drama and tender husband-wife moments wiggle their way into the story, but to no effective amount of conflict or resolution. All of it remains secondary to Sandler and his buddies clowning around together, even if the film’s goal is to clearly balance the two.

Unfortunately, it’s the gushy family stuff that ends up weighing down the final act because the story climax falls on the sentimental side, not the humorous one. After all, when your movie is just a bunch of jokes and characters interacting with each other in attempt to amuse themselves, there’s no obvious trajectory and no “great” ending that makes sense. As many of Sandler’s films tend to do, the bottom of the movie drops out with barely a joke and these peripheral cameo characters such as Steve Buscemi are called upon to provide ineffective comic relief.

“Grown Ups” strives to be funny in that Happy Madison productions way, but also heartfelt and real in its depiction of family life. The objective is admirable, but if families hanging out and various members of them being completely wacko were entertaining in reality, we wouldn’t need to go to the movies to watch a movie about that and nothing else — we’d just do it ourselves.

2/5 Stars

Grown Ups
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Written by Adam Sandler, Fred Wolf
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Chris Rock


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