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TBTS Reviews: Grown Ups

July 18, 2010

There is a growing trend among the highbrow that dictates the following: if Adam Sandler is involved in a project, it’s to be looked down upon. Even though Sandler has seemed to go out of his way to win his critics back (with notable, solid turns in films like Spanglish, Funny People and Punch-Drunk Love), he seems doomed to always be held to his earliest efforts: goofy voices and funny faces and whatnot.

Feel free to look down upon me, then, intellectuals, because you can count me among those who feel that Sandler’s early films are thoroughly enjoyable and funny. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Happy Gilmore and am probably among the few that honestly think that, in it’s own tremendously lowbrow way, Billy Madison is a gem of absurdity. I have enjoyed these movies over the years, and I’m not ashamed to champion or defend them. I, personally, find Adam Sandler to be a funny fellow. 

Sandler and ex-SNL castmate Chris Rock are arguably the most successful of Sandler’s goofball troupe of buddies, which also includes David Spade, Rob Schneider and — only in the past couple of years — King of Queens‘ Kevin James. And with the exception of maybe Schneider, who’s never seemed to click on a commercial level outside of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (which he followed with a barrage of fairly awful films), all five have enjoyed smashing to moderately-memorable status. Kevin James made a name for himself in the sitcom world, and David Spade seems to just kick around and turn up here and there, snarky and entertaining in smaller doses (and that works well for him). 

On paper, Grown Ups probably did look like a hoot. Sandler would corral his pals together for a film that would have them holed up in a lake house hanging out and making a movie. And on paper, for us the viewers, it probably should have been a great deal of fun as well — five silly character actors whose films and/or stand-up have, collectively, provided some solid laughs here and there over the years. Keep it loose, keep it weird, and what could go wrong, right? Right?

Sadly — and probably not surprisingly — there’s a lot wrong with Grown Ups. For starters, it’s not very funny. Director Dennis Dugan (who made Tommy Boy, another movie I’ll stand up for, and which featured the late Chris Farley, who undoubtedly would have been in this film as well were he still alive) doesn’t seem to really know what to do with all these guys and, instead of looking back at the things the comics do best, tries to shoehorn them into a warm-hearted Fourth-of-July family film. Terrible idea.

This is the kind of film that gives critics ammunition against each of the members of the cast and justifies the vitriol they all come up against from their detractors. Instead of jokes, the five simply hurl “hilarious” one-line insults at one another for the duration of the film (Kevin James is fat! Adam Sandler is rich! David Spade is single!), which would be okay if the one-liners were funny — but they’re safe and watered down, because this is a film meant to appeal to families. 

The plot loosely revolves around five friends reuniting after the death of a beloved grade-school basketball coach, a plot device literally forgotten until the last seven minutes of the film, and ends up being just a “vacation” movie wherein we’re supposed to see how each of these characters learns to deal with his respective adult-life problems. It’s the kind of movie you really want to like, but you can’t shake the fact that it’s just plain awful. To top it off, further Sandler buddies Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Norm MacDonald and Steve Buscemi — all of those people very reputably funny — are given no jokes and nothing to do. 

I’m probably not shocking you by telling you that Grown Ups isn’t a good film. You can easily come back at me with all the “I told you so’s” about its cast you’d like. If you hate anyone in this movie, this is your exhibit A. But, if you’re like me, you can recognize that each of these actors has, at some point or another, captured some sort of fleeting lightning — and that in a world where each of these people were given a script which played to their individual strengths, this movie could have worked on a very base, jokey level.  It was never going to be Sophie’s Choice. But it could have, at the very least, been funny. The underlying theme of the film seems to be that growing up changes things and changes people, and perhaps the cast of Grown Ups — all of whom seem here to be watered-down versions of their younger, funnier selves — reflects precisely that theme.

  1. July 19, 2010 11:00 am

    I’m disappointed to hear this. I actually love all these guys when they are doing what they do best and was hoping that this would be a good vehicle for that. It was destined to be perfect or abysmal, though.

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