Grown Ups is a sure thing — a film you think you’ve seen before, and probably saw somewhere a second time, so why not another? Actors, particularly stage actors in longrunning plays, strive for “the illusion of the first time.” High-concept comedies like Grown Ups strive for the illusion of the third.
It’s a tiny bit better than Couples Retreat, so that’s good. The ensemble is funnier than the material (the script was co-written by Sandler, who also produced, and Fred Wolf ). I laughed when Maya Rudolph, as Chris Rock’s ultra-pregnant wife, did a little dance and hollered, “Baby got front!” I laughed when Chris Rock and Tim Meadows engaged in trash talk on the basketball court. I laughed at Steve Buscemi, stuck in a body cast with his arms stuck straight up in the air.
I wish I had laughed more often. I love to laugh, loud and long and clear, just like Ed Wynn in Mary Poppins. It’s just that Grown Ups director Dennis Dugan, a frequent Sandler collaborator, is such a dang lunkhead when it comes to slapstick. On the crudest possible level, he lands the punch lines often enough to please the folks and make the money, so there’s no fiscal incentive for him to change a thing about his directorial approach to anything, really. But if he ever learns to sustain a shot and build a joke visually within the frame, rather than slamming it together in the edit, he’ll give us better comedies. I guar-an-tee it.
Sandler’s character is the rich, successful, cool one, the one we’re supposed to relate to, though he’s by far the most condescending of the bunch, a Hollywood agent married to a fashion designer (Salma Hayek, who now goes by Salma Hayek Pinault) whose kids are, in his words, “snotty, spoiled” little pishers who text the nanny when they want a snack or a certain kind of designer water. (This is played more or less straight.)
When his beloved middle-school basketball coach dies, the agent and his far-flung pals reunite for the funeral back in “New England,” as the establishing title card reads. There, at a lakeside cabin over the July 4 weekend, the guys relive all their old adolescent pranks and pratfalls and rump-oglings (the Rob Schneider character has a couple of ha-cha daughters), while their families look on, smiling.
The only people humiliated, really, are older people and heavy people and nerds and vegans and black people and mothers who breast-feed their 4-year-olds. Everybody else gets a pass. David Spade plays the drunk, horny, single one. Kevin James plays the overweight one. At one point Maria Bello, vastly overqualified to be playing James’ wife (though both are likable), hoses Rudolph in the face with her breast milk. Now there’s something you didn’t get a generation ago, in the comparably forgettable John Hughes-scripted comedy The Great Outdoors.
—MCT, Tribune Media Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org