Review: Grown Ups Provides an Abundance of Stale Comedy
by Jeremy Kirk
June 25, 2010
The joke goes something like this: A prison warden gets all of the inmates into the commons area. He tells them he has good news and bad news for them. The bad news is that, due to a food shortage in the county, all they would have to eat is cow manure. But, the good news is that there will be plenty of it. It's a little harsh to compare the jokes in Grown Ups to excrement. They may not be on that level of lameness, but any level of lameness in a comedy is bound to be noticed.
The sight gags and verbal sparring being thrown about between the film's five characters, played by Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider, rarely work and often come off as just one more way to keep the film's running time in balance. What should be kept in better balance is this level of self indulgence, as there really seems to be no other reason for the film to exist other than to get these five, real life friends together under one roof.
To that end, it's a bit like Soderbergh's Ocean's movies. It's certainly in the same vein as the original Ocean's Eleven from 1960, which only served as an excuse for the rat pack to party it up in Vegas. With Grown Ups, though, the party has been relegated to a cabin in the woods in New England. The five friends in question have trekked there to spend 4th of July weekend together after 30 years apart and to scatter the ashes of their childhood basketball coach.
They each have their own personalities, as is to be expected. Spade likes them young. Schneider likes them old. Rock is a stay-at-home father to Maya Rudolph's working-class woman. James and Sandler serve as the straight men here, both leading relatively stable lives. The only, real, ongoing gag involving James has to do with his wife, played by Maria Bello, insisting on breast-feeding their four-year-old. There is some veiled attempt of giving Sandler something to do, as he is a highly successful, Hollywood agent who just wants his friends to think he's one with the normalcy. This offers up one of the worst attempts at a running gag, as he tries to convince them time and time again that his Chinese maid, who has come on the trip with them, is a foreign exchange student. Of course, he never goes over this plan with her, so he is constantly trying to flub together lines about studying for a test whenever she tries to serve him.
That, in a nutshell, is pretty much how to sum up Grown Ups, too. It is just one awkward attempt at comedy after another based on something that is wholly unnecessary and would never exist in the real world. When it's not about that, it's about the constant rib-jabbing these five friends throw at one another, comments about their mother or their weight or whatever. This might work if there is any amount of chemistry between the characters. There isn't, so it comes off as lame and force-fed. Despite the self-indulgence of the film as a whole, you rarely get the impression these men are having any amount of real fun on set. It's almost as if these five actors literally spent 30 years apart from each other and never learned to co-exist again, something we know not to be true.
Most of Grown Ups executes like a wet towel landing on pavement. This isn't to say there is absolutely nothing interesting about the film. Little moments here and there make you laugh. Spade, to my absolute shock, almost steels it whenever he's allowed to open his mouth. James' character is somewhat annoying, but he's funny enough to almost get you past that.
Two highlights in the film have absolutely nothing to do with the five leads. One involves a pale Steve Buscemi at a water park, something I never thought I'd see in my life. The other involved the wives of the men, particularly Rudolph, Bello, and Salma Hayek, who plays Sandler's wife. There is more chemistry and connection between these three actresses in five minutes of Grown Ups than there is between the male leads in the remaining 95 minutes. The three actresses genuinely seem to be having fun during their one scene together, and this shines through.
In the end, though, it all goes back to those five, the "grown ups" in question. That title bugs me, as well, as it suggests something about the five of them being unable to grow up or to move on with their lives. This seems to be the case with Spade, who plays the only one of the group who hasn't found any semblance of marital happiness. It's just one more instance of the dispensable nature of Grown Ups, the lack of necessity that always comes with a "comedy" without any humor. The joyless interaction between all five actors in Grown Ups comes off as both stale and cringing, and, while the jokes never seem to find their way to working, at least there's plenty of them, right?
Jeremy's Rating: 4 out of 10