There was a time in my life when the opening of an Adam Sandler movie would have gotten me to the theater quicker than the Millennium Falcon could complete the Kessel run. To this day thoughts of “Billy Madison” or “Happy Gilmore” can leave me chuckling to myself as if someone just told me an idiotic inside joke. As juvenile and moronic as Sandler can be, if I’m in the right frame of mind, there’s a weird sort of refreshment to the kind of humor that doesn’t make me work to laugh the way the witty banter of more “sophisticated” comedy might. So despite my age and general attraction to humor that is more in line with “Arrested Development” than “Mr. Deeds”, the idea of Sandler reteaming with Chris Rock, David Spade, and the rest of his old cronies appealed to me and brought me to the theater with high hopes for a stupid 90s throwback laugh fest. Man was I wrong.
“Grown Ups” picks up some thirty years after a 6th grade basketball championship, five friends reunite to celebrate the life of their recently deceased coach. The guys (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider) are all in different walks of life with various levels of success, but they all share that common trait that brings all Americans together: discontent with life. (So refreshing.) Sandler’s kids are preppy little punks, James is drowning in debt, Rock is a stay-at-home dad whose is threatened by his wife’s career, Spade is the typically sad single, and Schneider is just…well, he’s Rob Schneider; how good could his life really be? What starts as one uncomfortable night in a lake house turns into a long weekend of bonding between family and friends, leaving each character to reflect upon his/her life. And also, numerous shenanigans take place. Hooray.
Where do I even begin? As much potential as “Grown Ups” has and as much fun as it could have been, it never managers to pull together a single complete scene that carries any momentum. From the very beginning the entire thing feels half-hearted and incomplete, disjointed and lifeless. Multiple times the film begins to build continuity and flow, only to have it quickly crushed with a pointless cutaway or flatulence-related joke. Generally speaking, “Grown Ups” fails to develop a single character or plotline. The direction of Dennis Dugan, which has worked so well in the past for Sandler projects, comes across as completely disinterested and un-invested. No, honestly, it seems like EVERYONE here is disinterested and un-invested. “Grown Ups” is a train wreck and a massive waste of time and talent.
And make no mistake; there is a lot of talent involved in this thing. Whether you like Sandler’s brand of humor or not, the guy is a talented comedian, as are James and Rock. Even Spade has had some strong moments over the years (“Tommy Boy” is a personal favorite of mine). Their wives are portrayed by Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, and the always-funny-except-for-this Maya Rudolph. And yet nothing consistently good comes from any of them. The jokes are heavy-handed and crude, very rarely drawing a laugh-out-loud from me (and may I say it is notoriously easy to make me LOL or even ROTFL). One scene after another falters under the weight of its own stupidity and the actors seem to know it. Even worse, the chemistry between these characters is nonexistent. This was the most shocking failure to me. I expected some weak moments and petered-out jokes mixed in with fart humor and general immaturity. But I thought if nothing else, the dynamic between Sandler and the rest would be strong. After all, these guys are actual off-screen friends who’ve had success together in the past. Alas, this hope was crushed early on and never was revisited. The screen never feels shared by all the talent. Instead, it feels like each joke is a race for each actor to get to the half-thought out, relatively unfunny punch line.
Throughout the entire course of this film, I kept coming up with hypotheticals to explain how all of these big names got roped into this soul-crushing piece of crap. The best I could come up with was that Rob Schneider really needed some money and called on his old pal Sandler to help him out. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Rob: “Hey Adam thanks for taking my call. Listen man, I hate to put you in a bad spot but I’m really up against it here. I’ve gambled away all my “Deuce Bigalow” money and I owe some serious cash to some really bad people. I need some help.”
Adam: “Rob, I’d love to help you but I just can’t loan you any more money. Not after that Shanghai incident…”
Rob: “No, no, no, I’m not asking for money, Adam. I’ve got a great idea for a movie and I think it’s perfect for you.”
Adam: “That’s great, Rob. Just fax it over. I’ll have to say I wrote it, of course (you know how these things go). Anything for an old friend. Spade is sitting right here. He’ll do anything to stay relevant so he’s in. We’ll get Dugan to direct; he owes me his entire career, anyway. Let’s start shooting next week.”
Rob: “Oh that’s great, Adam, I really appreciate it man.”
Adam: “No problem, Rob. Hey, while I’ve got you on the line: remember that bit you used to do on SNL? The copy guy thing? The one and only thing that you’ve ever done that mattered to anyone and somehow catapulted you to semi-stardom? Do some of that for me; I haven’t heard it in so long.”
And that’s what I came up with to keep my mind off the plot-less drivel unfolding on screen.
The real tragedy here is that somewhere in all of the mediocre jokes and failed writing, there’s a decent movie. 30 minutes, maybe even 45, of what “Grown Ups” forces the audience to endure is worth showing if it was totally rewritten, reshot, and reedited (by people who are care about making a quality film over making money and/or are not stoned). I like to think this 30 minutes is what attracted me to this film in the first place but maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about the terrible life choice I made in entering this theater when “Jonah Hex” was right across the hall (I’m only sort-of kidding). Or maybe the truth is I’m 27 years old and that makes me an old curmudgeon when it comes to this type of movie. Still, I expect more. I can handle and enjoy juvenile, immature humor as long as it is, in fact, humorous and “Grown Ups” just doesn’t fit that bill.
I feel really old now,