WFTB Score: 4/20
The plot: Coming together to remember a much-loved basketball coach, five fully-grown friends turn the event into a big holiday for themselves and their extended families. However, some take to being taken away from their daily lives – and thrown in with strangers – with more enthusiasm than others.
Just once in the career of Coach ‘Buzzer’, he led a team to championship glory. That event bonded five boys in friendship, and Coach’s death calls them together again: Lenny (Adam Sandler), a successful agent with a workaholic designer wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek), ungrateful kids and a secret nanny called Rita (Di Quon); Eric (Kevin James), a big-hearted soul with a flash car, pretty wife Sally (Maria Bello), their own brood and his own secret; Kurt (Chris Rock), a hen-pecked house-husband who gets little respect from his kids, wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph) or his flatulent mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann); Rob (Rob Schneider), a would-be spiritualist with a thing for older women such as Gloria (Joyce Van Patten) and, improbably, two stunning daughters plus a ‘fugly’ one; and Marcus (David Spade), a singleton still walking on the wild side when the others’ party days are over.
After the funeral, Lenny reveals he has hired the lake house at which they celebrated years ago, and the party descends for a week of bonding and self-discovery, though Roxanne and the kids initially hanker for the luxuries of Milan. The men will have none of it, especially when Rob’s beautiful daughters arrive, and stay all week to say goodbye to the coach, enjoy each other’s company and visit the nearby water park. They also confront the simmering resentment of the rival basketball team they bested years ago, who are still around – and still convinced that Lenny cheated his way to victory.
You can imagine the scene: our five stars at the bar at Happy Madison Productions.
“Hey,” says one of them, “why don’t we all star in the same movie? That way we can hang out on set as well as off it.”
“Cool. What’s the story?”
“Story? Come on, we’ve put out some pretty crappy pictures between us – especially you, Rob – and folks are going to see them regardless. Who the hell needs a story?”
They clink Buds, and Grown Ups is born. I say this because the movie, written by Sandler with Fred Wolf, is dismally lazy in both concept and execution, the equivalent of Sandler’s home movies; and we all know how interesting it is to watch other people’s holiday snaps. Characterisations and script are largely built around the actors’ obvious attributes: Eric’s out of shape, Marcus is a sleaze, Rob’s a shortarse; Kurt’s emasculated, which requires a modicum of acting from Rock, while Sandler’s Lenny is cursed with – aside from big ears – the tragedy of being too successful. Bless.
While the five guys rib each other in laboured fashion (entirely lacking the lively edge of The 40-Year-Old Virgin), the secondary characters are stooges: the wives are high-maintenance, the kids appallingly ungrateful and brattish, at least until they come round to the men’s way of thinking.
“Daddy knows best” is ultimately the retrograde message of Grown Ups. Worse, it’s about all the movie has to offer. There’s potential for drama, and occasionally the film threatens to throw a raincloud over the self-congratulatory parade, but it never amounts to anything: Kurt hits it off with Rita (and what’s the fuss over her being a Nanny or not?) – it’s Deanne who apologises for being obsessed with work; Eric displays signs of diabetes and is hiding his lack of success – neither are a problem; Roxanne’s miffed that Lenny is surreptitiously controlling his family’s lives? No worries, ‘cos it’s for her own good in the end.
The film is so satisfied with its objectionable grasp on life that it descends to a platitudinous homily from Gloria and manages to condescend the locals who never made it out of town: Lenny and his friends are winners anyway, they can afford to throw a poxy baseball game against the grateful rednecks. Thank goodness Steve Buscemi’s on hand(s) to give the lazy final act a little oomph.
Still, however unpromising the plot, or theme, comedies can be forgiven almost anything if they have funny jokes. Grown Ups does not have funny jokes, or anything approaching them. Instead, it has the sort of material Rob Schneider revels in: man face down in poo; man kicking another man in testicles; men weeing in swimming pool; woman face down in cake; same woman with disfigured toe; same woman (again) blaming smell of own fart on dog.
There’s also a child still breast-feeding aged four (a gag Little Britain already took to its extreme some time ago) and the idea that sex with older women is, in and of itself, gross. I get that the title Grown Ups is meant ironically, but the level of puerility in a film aimed at adults is unforgivable. That said, Arrow Roulette made me smile, which alone is worth an extra mark.
Regrettably – if inevitably – there’s also a leery sensibility where the attractive girls and wives are concerned, and a pointed meanness about women who are plain, or old, or oversized, or all three at once, even if it does provide a half-decent joke where four of the men end up looking at a tree when their ogling shifts go out of sync (and there’s no denying that Madison Riley’s pins are extraordinary). Grown Ups’ attempt to redress the balance is a gag about a hunk at the water park having a daft voice, which would be fine if it wasn’t ripped straight from The Man With Two Brains.
No doubt the makers of Grown Ups want us to go away musing on the precious friendships we take forward into adulthood; actually, I’m sure they couldn’t care less, so long as the box office is decent (decent enough for a sequel, it seems). Whatever, while the five men appear to be enjoying each other’s jokes, they project precious little towards us, the viewer, except the lowest of lowbrow slapstick and a depressing streak of paternalism. It all makes me want to revisit The Wedding Singer, from the period when Sandler had to work at his craft rather than sleepwalk through most of a movie, and sub-contract the rest.