Dennis Dugan´s Grown Ups is faintly amusing in fits and spurts, but it´s otherwise obvious and bland – in other words, lame. It´s rarely overtly awful, just banal; a shame, because there´s usually at least some bad-movie, you-can-laugh-at-it fun to be had in films starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, or David Spade. But no, Grown Ups tries to play things safe and is all the worse off for it.
Five friends are reunited at the funeral of their junior high school basketball coach, who led them to a championship in 1978. There´s Lenny (Adam Sandler), now a Hollywood agent married to a beautiful fashion designer (Salma Hayek), with spoiled, sheltered children and an Asian nanny; Eric (Kevin James), a hefty car dealership owner with a wife (Maria Bello) and kids; Kurt (Chris Rock), a stay-at-home dad with a pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph); Marcus (David Spade), an unmarried drunk and ladies´ man (really?); and Rob (Rob Schneider), a vegan with a wife (Joyce Van Patten) 30 years his senior.
As each of the leads plays comfortably into a stereotype, we´re treated to an endless barrage of rich, fat, whipped, drunk, and old jokes. Endless. With so many characters and so little room for story, most of Grown Ups consists of scenes of the guys sitting around, drinking beers and eating KFC, cracking jokes at their own expense. One makes a fat joke, another tries to top it, another chimes in, then there´s the comeback, and repeat ad nauseum until they run out of stale material.
Despite their childish actions, the five friends also play into the grumpy old man stereotype, complaining about how easy their kids have it and how they don´t go outside and play anymore. The more serious themes in Grown Ups might have considered the death of the traditional American family unit, the loss of friends over the years, or lives that didn´t turn out exactly as planned. But no, everything is boiled down to how nice it is to have some fun with old friends.
Sandler, Rock, Schneider and Spade are indeed old friends, having come up together on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s. But they´re all misused here: Sandler is supremely bland, Rock has too little to do, and Spade and Schneider have too much. Only James – filling in, perhaps, for the departed Chris Farley – saves face with some occasionally amusing pratfalling.
The rest of a talented cast is wasted. Hayek, Bello, Rudolph and Van Patten, as the wives, only serve to advance plot points or as the butt of tasteless jokes. SNL alums Colin Quinn and Tim Meadows show up briefly for a haphazardly thrown-together big game finale. Steve Buscemi, as he´s done in other Sandler movies, desperately scrounges around for up a few laughs (and occasionally succeeds in getting them). Ebony Jo-Ann plays a caricature of a black grandmother.
Dugan´s previous film, You Don´t Mess with the Zohan, featured some inspired bits of Sandler lunacy. Grown Ups, however, has more in common with his Sandler/James gay marriage misfire I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. It´s only missing the relevancy (and, I suppose, the offensiveness).
Sandler´s previous film, on the other hand, was the widely underappreciated Funny People, which took in less than 1/3 of what Grown Ups did at the US box office (and never received a theatrical release in the Czech Republic). Funny People is, I think, director Judd Apatow´s best film, a darkly funny drama about stand-up comics that likely confounded audiences looking for another Zohan.
For the other leads, Grown Ups may actually be a step up. But watching Sandler go from Funny People to this, and be rewarded for it by the general public, is downright saddening. He´s tried other serious fare before in Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, both of which found some warm critical reception but similarly disappointing results at the box office. Apparently, his audience appreciates him only as a clown. And here, he fails at that, too.
Also opening: Největší z Čechů (The Greatest Czechs, showtimes), a filmmaking documentary from director Robert Sedláček (Pravidla lži). Screening in Czech, but you can catch an English-subtitled copy at Kino Světozor.