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Movie Review: 'Grown Ups'
Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider are less than the sum of their parts
"Grown Ups" is the least funny theatrical release that any of its stars have ever been a part of.
I just want to let that sink in, because Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider have combined to be in some truly unfunny movies.
"Grown Ups" has fewer laughs than "The Benchwarmers," "Little Nicky" or "Lost & Found." It has fewer chuckles than either of the Deuce Bigalow movies. It has fewer chortles than "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and fewer guffaws than "Head of State." Heck, I was an apologist for the remake of "The Longest Yard," which features many of these thespians and isn't great, but still looks like a 90-minute laugh-riot compared to "Grown Ups."
[Note: I haven't seen Schneider's direct-to-video prison rape comedy "Big Stan," so I added the "theatrical release" proviso just in case.]
This doesn't mean that "Grown Ups" is the worst movie that any of its stars have ever been a part of. Let's get that out of the way. "Grown Ups" is a lazy, flaccid, complacent, lifeless dud of an ego-trip masquerading as an alleged summer comedy. It's still a better movie than "The Benchwarmers."
Now if somebody had somehow found a way to smuggle Jon Heder into "Grown Ups" as well? Then we'd have a competition!
Full review of "Grown Ups" after the break, just in case you haven't already gotten the gist of where this is going...
"Grown Ups" feels like the kind of movie which was done for two reasons.
The first reason would be that somebody owed somebody else a favor, though figuring out who's doing what for whom on "Grown Ups" may be a challenge. Sandler's still the biggest star of the group, but his most recent film was last summer's "Funny People," which was complicated, mature and uneven, but also featured the actor's best performance to date, which probably explains why it was a box office disappointment. It's not unreasonable that after bucking, unsuccessfully, for Oscar attention, Sandler might have enjoyed the chance to share screentime with James, who hasn't had the opportunity to tarnish the box office luster of "Paul Blart." Rock, who seemed like he was doing Sandler a favor appearing in "The Longest Yard" just five years ago, never had a box office touch to begin with and has lost what touch he had. So maybe the question is just if Sandler is doing a favor for James or vice versa, because there can be no doubt that Schneider and Spade are, as ever, just happy to be along for the ride.
The second reason is probably the more logical one: If Sony Pictures wants to give you millions upon millions of dollars to go hang out by a lake in Massachusetts for a few weeks and nobody has the guts to check to see if you have anything as trifling as a script? Well, who wouldn't do it?
Sandler's successful low-brow comedies have always been reliably high concept. Sandler in elementary school? Sold! Sandler as a golfer? Sold! Sandler as a dad? Sold! Sandler as the Devil's son? Sold! Sandler pillages the Frank Capra estate? Sold! Sandler as an Israeli hairdresser? Sold! [Yes, probably studio heads should have been a bit more hesitant to sign on for a couple of those vehicles, but they've been ridiculously successful, for the most part.]
"Grown Ups" is the rare no-concept comedy. Stealing one or two broad strokes, but none of the substance, from Jason Miller's "That Championship Season," "Grown Ups" has no plot at all. A group of friends from youth reunite at their old basketball coach's funeral and spend a long weekend at a lake house forgetting to mention their beloved coach. They come with their significant others -- Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudoph and Joyce Van Patten, collectively so much too talented for this mess -- and handful of generic kids and... nothing. One or two Important Life Lessons are hinted at and then forgotten entirely. One or two pieces of Character Growth are implied necessary, but never come to pass. Sometimes Kevin James' character falls down. They eat a couple meals, have a 20 minute montage at a water park and eventually replay that glorious basketball game, but only because somebody realized at the last minute that the movie needed a climax.
Sandler and Fred Wolf are the credited writers and they've done a thing that's baffling: They've written a script that's supposed to be built with its stars, old buddies all, in mind and yet the script seems completely unaware of what occasional strengths the movie's stars possess. Instead, the movie pumps Sandler up as an all-powerful Hollywood agent with unstoppable basketball skills and leaves the other folks digging for scraps. James plays the husky guy who falls down a lot. Spade plays the sarcastic man-child. What's the point in having a friend writing for you if that friend sees you in exactly the same bland and anonymous way in which everybody in Hollywood and the audience already sees you? Only Rock gets a "character," but forced to play an emasculated house-husband, he's upstaged by a sassy black farting grandma with a grotesque bunion.
Yes, "Grown Ups" is the kind of movie that features a cast of experienced, improv-savvy comics and still has to include a sassy farting grandma and her bunion to goose the comedy.
With no scripted structure to speak of, director Dennis Dugan seems to have been content to just let scenes play out for as long as his powerful stars wanted to go. There's little evidence that any of the actors were steered or directed and there's no evidence that the movie was cut with any awareness of pacing. So when a scene starts to go wrong, you can bet it will continue to go wrong for minutes and minutes at a stretch. Sandler stepped largely out of his comfort zone on "Funny People" and stepped right back into the Happy Madison womb on "Grown Ups," a womb where they're all such chums nobody is capable of saying, "Ummm... That doesn't work." The whole movie is friends patting each other on the back for amusing each other and being so rich and complacent that they don't care if anybody else will find even a chuckle.
"Grown Ups" is one of those movies, and it happens more often than you'd think, in which whoever cut the trailer genuinely has a better sense of comedic timing than whoever cut the movie itself (Tom Costain, in this case). There are punchlines in the trailer that I've seen play to laughter in theaters -- the "chocolate-wasted" line seems to be slaying people -- that barely register in the movie because they've just been left amidst the bloat of a longer scene. In the trailer, the studio has been able to trim the flab and expose one or two semi-not-awful moments and using them to entrap unsuspecting viewers. Somehow the trailers haven't emphasized the multiple urination jokes or the extended shot of David Spade's exposed rear end, because some things are so precious they should be saved for paying customers.
The level of the comedy is predictably low-brow (and tends towards recycled material), but it needn't necessarily also be misogynistic and also wildly hypocritical. That's just a bonus! The film makes one joke after another about how utterly disgusting it is that Rob Schneider's character would want to have sex with an old woman. The film makes zero jokes about how utterly disgusting it is that an older woman (Joyce Van Patten is a solid-looking 66) would want to have sex with Rob Schneider. Rather than ever getting into the logistics of how Kevin James would be able to end up with a woman as beautiful as Maria Bello, the movie derides Maria Bello's character for breast-feeding her four-year-old, as if that represents a sign of mental stability that would even the field a little. Another joke is that Scheider's character has produced several smoking hot daughters -- Madison Riley and Jamie Chung -- and Schneider gets really offended whenever anybody on-screen ogles them, which doesn't stop Dugan from prancing both young actresses in Daisy Dukes and bikinis and practically embedding the camera in their navels. And if anybody can, after seeing the movie, explain why Sandler's character has an undocumented immigrant nanny or why that character takes up so much time without getting any sort of payoff in the end. She's very attractive, which is probably enough for Dugan.
When Dugan isn't objectifying his nubile young stars and reviling any woman over 21, he's still less invested in humor than in product placement. Pay close attention to the prominent placement of a particularly unfunny KFC bucket, which upstages the film's actors in one scene which otherwise might have been emotional. The actors are constantly turning soft drink cans and other recognizable products so that their labels face the camera and so that they get properly framed. This is the sort of movie that has its kids go through the nostalgic ritual of making tin can telephones, only the tin cans have been replaced by Dunkin Donut cups, all better lit than the humans holding them. You'd think fronting a movie with this many occasional box office draws could make this kind of distracting promotional whoring either less necessary or at least necessarily central, but you'd be wrong.
And since nobody had any idea of how to best utilize the core cast, Sandler's brought along a motley assortment of his old buddies and regular ensemble players, folks including Steve Buscemi (wasted), Colin Quinn (wasted) and Dan Patrick (not exactly wasted, but still not funny).
Because I'm a fair and even-handed reviewer, I have to give a little credit where it's due: Tim Meadows pops up in the third act and his first line of dialogue led to the only time I laughed out loud in the entire movie. That may be the equivalent of bunting in the ninth inning to break up a perfect game or it may be an achievement. Either way, kudos Tim Meadows.
Although Sandler has been maturing for years in movies that his core audience has avoided with the same disgust they'd reserve for old women and bunions, "Grown Ups" marks a piece of attempted maturation within his alleged low-brow wheelhouse. As several characters announce at several points in the home stretch, the second act of life is where things get interesting. So far, through one mainstream movie, Adam Sandler's middle age isn't the least bit interesting and it's even less funny.
Ultimately, I wrote a lot of words in this review, when I could have just quit after my lede: "'Grown Ups' is the least funny theatrical release that any of its stars have ever been a part of." That says it all.
"Grown Ups" will be in theaters everywhere starting on Friday, June 25.