I’m a comedy snob. You should probably know that. That’s not too say I can’t enjoy a good pratfall or I only laugh if someone makes a reference to Kierkegaard. But give me Saturday Night Live over MADtv any day of the week. And I’ll take Kids in the Hall over both of them. Or I’ll gladly trade in all three for SCTV. So the prospect of a new Adam Sandler vehicle is daunting. It’s not that he can’t be funny…he just chooses not to. His latest film Grown Ups offers a ray of hope in that it reunites him with many of his SNL cohorts. Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows and even Maya Rudolph (though she is from a different era) all turn up. Kevin James (though not an SNL alum) shows up to play the “fat guy” role that clearly would have gone to Chris Farley were he still alive. And, as funny as any of these can be, they all have a pretty spotty record of achieving it on the big screen. So will combining forces lead to a comedic renaissance or will it cause a vortex of suck so strong that it threatens to consume anything that crosses its path? Truth be told, the answer is somewhere in the middle…though closer to the latter than the former.
Adam Sandler plays a guy named…you know what? Who cares? Nobody’s gonna call him anything than Adam Sandler anyway, right? And that’s all he’s really going to play. So why waste your time. Adam Sandler is a hot shot, super successful Hollywood agent. When his 8th grade basketball coach dies Sandler and his SNL alum buddies return to their hometown for the funeral. The town is a small, lakefront community and Sandler et al share a cabin on the water for the weekend.
And that’s it. There you go. That’s what happens.
I mean, they sit around and complain about their lives. But as far as story goes? That’s it.
Each character has their minor personality trait that the filmmakers attempt to masquerade as plot. Sandler is embarrassed by his kids – hyper-privileged d-bags in training who’ve never seen a TV that wasn’t a flat screen and cringe at the thought of drinking tap water. Spade is the single-guy constantly on the prowl for women. Schneider plays a new-age drama queen creepily smitten with a wife 30 years his senior. Rock, the only one playing against type, is stay-at-home dad struggling with the emasculation that comes with such a choice. And Kevin James is fat. That’s not a critique of him as a person by the way. That’s the film’s singular defining character trait for him: fat. And he actually appears to have lost weight since his last film so most of the fat jokes not only fall flat but make almost no sense whatsoever.
The film adopts a romanticization of childhood that was a little confusing given the age of the cast. Sandler spends the bulk of the movie lamenting his children’s love of video games and aversion to outdoorsy activities like rope swings. At one point he tries to get his boys (who by all appearances are 10 and 12 years of age) to play Chutes N Ladders. Sandler and crew are only few years older than I am and I know in my neighborhood they only way we were going to play with a rope swing was if Activision made a version for the Atari 2600.
Much of the film plays like a collection of deleted scenes as the cast attempts to one-up each riffing on the topic at hand. These scenes are the film’s highlight. The cast has good chemistry and a comfortable rapport that really does shine in these moments. Sadly, these moments are rare as the bulk of the movie consists of Kevin James falling down and a level of PG-13 raunch that’s a little bit surprising given how much the show has been advertised on Nickelodeon.
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