Synopsis: Thirty years after their high school graduation, five good friends reunite for a Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Why We're Excited: Who wouldn’t be excited about a comedy featuring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Steve Buscemi, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald, and even Paul Blart himself, Kevin James?....
Why We're Not: ...Except when it also features Rob Schneider and David Spade? How long ago were they on “Saturday Night Live”? And, when were they last truly funny?
The death of a beloved childhood coach brings the members of the man's championship pee-wee team back into town for the funeral. Among them are Sandler's high-end Hollywood agent, Chris Rock's hen-pecked house husband, Rob Schneider's New Age guru, David Spade's David Spade impersonator, and Kevin James's King of Queens clone. They all gather at a beautiful house on the lake to... well... to just sort of hang out. For one-hundred-odd minutes that somehow feel longer than most Russian epics. Nothing happens there. The quintet trade half-assed barbs, make fun of their various contrived problems, go to the water park, and engage in a rematch with the now-grown team they beat at the buzzer in that long-ago basketball game. The end.
The purpose presumably lies in watching ostensibly funny people goofing off. But even when the material doesn't sink to crude desperation, it never elicits more than a chuckle or two. Director Dennis Dugan weans Sandler off his crueler instincts, but can't entirely shake the sense that people are being mocked for all the wrong reasons. Moreover, the film's humor lacks the courage of its convictions. Distasteful gags involving characters buggering their friends' daughters, children being breast-fed inappropriately, and men copulating with dogs are all the more exasperating because the film inevitably backs off and says "just kidding." Like a lot of Sandler films, Grown Ups wants to have its cake and eat it, too -- to push outrageous buttons and then let us know how sweet and well-meaning it really is. Far too entrenched in the Hollywood system to break any rules; the film just wants us to think it does.
Even the flimsiest narrative needs something to drive it forward: some conflict or obstacle or lesson for the principal characters to work through. Grown Ups flirts awkwardly with a number of them, but can't settle on anything worth committing to. Instead, it shambles from amorphous scene to amorphous scene, using the huge cast as a sort of shell game to keep us from becoming too bored. A sad cameo from Steve Buscemi highlights the lack of creativity on display; he may as well have said, "Hi, I'm Steve Buscemi; I bet you recognized me and didn't even know I was in the movie!" The filmmakers assume that his very presence can get us to laugh, and they slap a few tenuous sight gags on to seal the deal. It doesn't take, and neither does the film.
Perhaps most distressingly, Grown Ups embodies the quiet egotism which Sandler's star persona embodies: kept under wraps here more than in his worst efforts, but peeking out far too many times for comfort. Amid the gaggle of frat-boy humiliations -- people tripping into cow pies, peeing in pools, and breaking speedboats with their enormous weight -- Sandler's character emerges all but unscathed. He makes no pratfalls, he never looks stupid, he doesn't deign to wallow in the muck like his various costars do. Asked at one point why he deliberately failed in a crucial moment, he responds by saying he wanted his opponent to know what it's like to win. The condescension and arrogance in that equation go completely over the movie's head. In its mind, he's a swell guy for doing what he does. That might have been forgivable had Grown Ups made us laugh a little more, but as it stands, it only confirms the hollow heart at the center of its ill-formed quasi-humor.