I like Adam Sandler. I really do. But I like him in a way that differs from most. I like him as an actor, a person who can embody a character and draw out emotion with ease. I don’t like him as the lowbrow funnyman the world has come to love. Despite solid performances in films like Spanglish, Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, he seems content to revert back to his old ways every so often. His latest, facetiously titled Grown Ups, features an ensemble cast isolated together in a cabin away from civilization where they will, predictably, grow as families and learn valuable life lessons.
The men in the families are longtime friends who grew up playing basketball together on Bobby “Buzzer” Ferdinando’s (Blake Clark) team. That team is the only one Buzzer has ever won a championship with so the kids all hold a special place in his heart. After his unfortunate death years later, the guys are reunited. There’s Lenny (Adam Sandler), a Hollywood agent in Los Angeles, Eric (Kevin James), the designated fat friend, Kurt (Chris Rock), the token black guy, Marcus (David Spade), the womanizing, alcohol abusing partier, and Rob (Rob Schneider), the wacky, “mystical” hippy friend who has a fetish for older women.
Those character descriptions, as simple as they are, also sum up the types of jokes in the movie. Eric is overweight, so most quips thrown his way are of the fat variety. The wisecracks directed at Rob have to do with his much too old wife. Pranks are pulled on Marcus when he passes out drunk and he wakes up in strange places. So on and so forth. Each character inhibits one personality trait and then takes a lashing from his friends about it.
If a character is too minor to have a personality, the filmmakers simply give that person a physical abnormality to joke on. For instance, Kurt’s mother-in-law is, inexplicably, with them at the cabin and she has something wrong with her toe, which is swelled up to the size of a golf ball. She is bombarded with harsh names like “Toe-J Simpson” and the like, but none are ever funny.
It’s a shame because Grown Ups tries so hard. The joke per second ratio is through the roof. When one character makes a crack at another, the rest of the friends join in on the verbal beatings. There are puns flying left and right from a mostly talented cast, yet so many go in one ear and out the other, if you’re lucky. Having one of those inane jokes stuck in your head could cause brain damage.
One important goal of comedies is to be fun. If the actors can show us how much they had on set, it might bleed through the screen to the audience. Grown Ups does this well. The five guys are clearly friends in real life and when they laugh onscreen, it feels genuine. They aren’t laughing because the script calls for them to, but rather because they simply can’t hold it in.
The problem is that while they’re clearly having a blast, the audience is not. None of the fun seeps through because the script isn’t there. This is one of those cases where I’d rather see a documentary about the making of the film because the behind-the-camera antics would surely be more rewarding.
Grown Ups receives 1/5