(2010)2Perry SeibertRegardless of whether you find him funny or not, Adam Sandler has indisputably managed his career about as well as any comic actor of his generation. He's always known exactly when to deliver the kind of formulaic romp that made him a movie star, while occasionally stretching himself by acting in films by gifted writer/directors like James L. Brooks and Paul Thomas Anderson. After breaking new ground with the Judd Apatow comedy drama Funny People, Sandler retreats to exceedingly familiar territory with Grown Ups.
As kids, wealthy Hollywood agent Lenny (Sandler), salesman Eric (Kevin James), house-husband Kurt (Chris Rock), horndog bachelor Marcus (David Spade), and new-age hippy Rob (Rob Schneider) won a basketball championship. When their beloved coach, Buzzy, dies 30 years later, the gang reunites -- along with their families -- for a Fourth of July weekend at the beachhouse where the coach took them to celebrate their title decades before. While the teasing between the five friends continues ceaselessly, they help each other deal with marriage, parenting, and financial problems. And at a big party, they face off in a rematch against the team that lost to them 30 years ago.
Executive produced and co-written by Sandler, Grown Ups is arguably the quintessential example of a movie that's far less fun to watch than it obviously was to make. The five leads are very comfortable together, and while their chemistry is appealing, the story has no narrative drive. They aren't playing characters as much as they're trying to come up with the best punch lines, but without a solid story to work from the jokes can't be anything other than throwaway one-liners that work best on Comedy Central Roasts -- it's not exactly revelatory to hear insults about how fat Kevin James is or how big Adam Sandler's ears are. And while each of them has one or two zingers that get chuckles, it's David Spade who actually comes off the best by toning down the sarcasm from his usual 9 to about a 4, and still outsnarking everyone in the cast by a wide margin.
Sadly, the very talented female cast -- including Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, and Salma Hayek -- have little to do other than show off their killer bodies in such a way that the film maintains its PG-13 rating. In fact the movie's biggest bummer is that it treats all the women like problems that would be solved if only they'd listen to their men, or hotties worthy of being ogled, or old and therefore a proper target for cruel barbs. It's not that these are bad performers, they're just stuck in a lazy script -- assuming there was much of a script to begin with.
What sinks Grown Ups is its noticeable lack of ambition. It's impossible to escape the feeling that once Sandler cooked up the idea, and knew he could get four pals to come and play for a few months, nobody worried all that much about anything else.