With Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade. Directed by Dennis Dugan. Rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity. 102 minutes.
It’s a plot we’ve seen many times before. A bunch of old school friends are brought back together after many years because of a death. Whether it’s the drama of “That Championship Season” or the sardonic humor of “The Big Chill,” this is a pretty sturdy plot. It provides the structure for GROWN UPS, but for what purpose? It’s only a platform for the usual collection of fart jokes, with some cheap sentiment thrown in at the end. With no more than two or three laughs in the whole film, it’s another step in this summer’s death march at the movies.
The very premise of the film falls short. We see a group of 12-year-old boys who win a championship basketball game. Many years later their coach has died and they come back to the funeral. There is absolutely no reason to think these five kids have turned into lifelong adult friends, but that’s what the movie would have us believe.
There’s the Hollywood agent Lenny (Adam Sandler) and his spoiled kids and fashion designer wife (Salma Hayek Pinault). There’s small town businessman Eric (Kevin James) and his wife (Maria Bello), who still breast feeds her four-year-old son. There’s Kurt (Chris Rock), who is dissed by his wife (Maya Rudolph) and obnoxious mother-in-law. Rounding out the list is lady’s man Marcus (David Spade) and spiritual goofball Rob (Rob Schneider), who is into public displays of affection with his much older wife (Joyce Van Patten).
Following the funeral, the five friends and their significant others convene at a cabin for several days of drinking, flatulence, stupid pranks, and drooling over Rob’s unexpectedly hot daughters. We’re supposed to believe they get in touch with who they really are, and become more sensitive to others. Since they don’t even have the depth of cartoon characters, it’s hard to have any sympathy for them. Lenny’s kids can’t wait to get to Milan with their mom for Fashion Week, while Kurt needs to regain the respect of his family. Their problems are like those set up in a screenwriting class. We don’t buy any of it for a minute.
It doesn’t help that our protagonists are five of the most annoying people in the movies today. The most likable of them, Kevin James, gets two of the films best moments, one of them a silly bit of slapstick, the other a great character moment when the two middle-aged groups that were rivals at age 12 meet for a rematch. One is tempted to argue that Sandler and Fred Wolf, who co-wrote the script, should have expanded on those moments, but that would be assuming they had any insight at all into what they were doing. More likely this is of the “stopped clock is right twice a day” school of filmmaking, where out of countless lame gags, a couple happen to work.
“Grown Ups” is a movie showing a bunch of aging comics, who once represented “cutting edge” youth, showing that their shtick has gotten old, and so have they.•••