Grown Ups ***
After making a foray into the family movie with Bedtime Stories and attempting something both a bit more serious and a bit more adult with Funny People, funny man Adam Sandler is back to his trademark kind of comedy – low brow, but not necessarily unfunny, laughs that will likely appeal mostly to teenage viewers or those with a taste for undemanding humour – for the first time since You Don’t Mess With the Zohan. One might think that Grown Ups might be something of a return to form after the disappointments of Zohan and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry but since the very beginning there has been one thing casting doubt as to whether his latest film would actually be any good – Dennis Dugan. Even though Dugan has directed some pretty good comedies in the past, among them 2006’s Rob Schneider starrer The Benchwarmers and Sandler’s very own Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore, he was also the architect of Sandler’s mediocre recent forays into this particular kind of comedy and his involvement here from the get go was not exactly an encouraging sign for its quality. If Grown Ups has one thing going for it that might go some way to making up for Dugan’s involvement, however, it is the cast. You see, this film isn’t merely another Adam Sandler vehicle but rather an ensemble piece not unlike last year’s Couples Retreat, albeit aimed at a slightly younger audience, with a cast that also includes Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Salma Hayek among others. As it turns out, though, a big line up of stars doesn’t necessarily make for a great movie as, while Grown Ups is far from being one of Sandler’s worst movies, it is also far from being one of his best.
Back in 1978, Lenny, Kurt, Eric, Rob and Marcus were best friends. Thirty years later, the guys reunite to mark the passing of their childhood basketball coach. With wives and kids in tow, they spend the Fourth of July weekend together at the lake house where they celebrated their championship years earlier. Ladies’ man Marcus (David Spade) wastes no time in ribbing Lenny (Adam Sandler) about his weight, while Lenny’s fashion designer wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek) mistakes Gloria (Joyce Van Patten), the somewhat older wife of Rob (Rob Schneider), for his mother! And speaking of mothers, Eric (Kevin James) is married to Sally (Maria Bello), who still breastfeeds their four-year-old son, much to the horror of househusband Kurt (Chris Rock), whose wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph) pays little attention to, and Roxanne. Clearly, the guys have a lot of catching up to do, reliving their high spirited youth and trying to forget they’re grown-ups…
One thing that is clear when watching Grown Ups is that the stars are having a lot of fun. Whether you do though will depend entirely on your personal taste in humour – if you like your humour to be smart and sophisticated you will be sorely disappointed (there again, that would be the case with almost any Adam Sandler movie) but if you like your humour to be obvious rather than subtle and not afraid to be bit rude and crude when called for you will probably love this movie, despite its many shortcomings. You see, while pretty much everyone in the cast clearly is having a lot of fun, this doesn’t mean that they performing at anywhere near their best. Don’t get me wrong, almost everyone does manage to be entertaining but there is a distinct sense that no one in the cast is actually at the top of their game, with Sandler in particular definitely not on top form. Individually, none of the stars really manages to shine, although together they do at least make for an amusing ensemble. The main failing of the film is the writing, with there being little genuine plot to speak of and attempts to inject some kind of philosophy to proceedings seeming rather out of place. The puerile humour is something of a mixed bag with even those in the target audience likely to find plenty to be both amused and repulsed about in the film. The film is quite gross, if suggestively rather than explicitly, at times and some scenes may make some viewers feel like hurling, notably gags involving Rob’s much older wife which really push against the boundaries of good taste. Also, a lot of gags revolve around characters making fun of one another or being humiliated, even if it is all in good fun, and some scenes seem present for little more purpose than to provide eye candy for viewers, with there being plenty for viewers both male and female. In spite of all this, however, the physical comedy, the not so witty one liners, the amusing comebacks, the shameless puns and an amusing cameo by Steve Buscemi do manage to raise some pretty big laughs – in fact, the audience at the screening this critic attended was laughing their asses off – and the film certainly provides an enjoyable viewing experience. It’s just a shame, though, that more couldn’t have been made of the overall film. The heartfelt message about enjoying the simpler things in life certainly resonates and there is clear potential for something great here but, despite being funny, there is much missing. With more effort from the cast, a better storyline and a bit less crudeness this could have ranked among Adam Sandler’s best movies but, as it is, it is rather a enjoyable but forgettable comedy, an amusing diversion and not a whole lot more. As it stands, though, Grown Ups is a major step up over some of Sandler’s other recent movies so it is at least a step in the right direction. Somewhat ironically, perhaps, is that grown ups are probably less likely to appreciate this film than younger viewers.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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