The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Grown Ups
If you think the idea of adults urinating in a pool filled with children is funny, then Grown Ups is a movie for you.

Grown Ups brings together Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. Depending on your point of view, this cast is either comedy heaven or comedy hell. With the obvious exception of Schneider, these can be funny guys, yet here they are stuck in a movie that doesn't even try to give them something interesting to do. It's lazy filmmaking, predicated on the faulty idea that it's enough to simply turn these actors lose.

The five play old friends reunited for the funeral of their childhood basketball coach. Together with their families, they spend a long holiday weekend at a beautiful lakeside cottage, catching up with each other. Their lives are quite different. Hollywood talent agent Lenny (Sandler) is married to a career-driven fashion designer (Salma Hayek) and believes his kids are spoiled; Kurt (Rock) is a house-husband intimidated by his demanding wife (Maya Rudolph) and judgmental mother-in-law; Eric (James) has career troubles and a spouse (Maria Bello) who's still breastfeeding their son at age four; Marcus (Spade) is a happy, womanizing bachelor; and Rob (Schneider) is married to a woman much, much older than he is.

Once everyone gets to the cottage, nothing happens. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that so actively avoided trying to have a plot. Grown Ups is little more than a series of scenes in which the characters sit around insulting each other. It's kind of shocking how little actual dialogue there is; at least half the lines spoken are mere insults. They make fun of each other, then make fun of all the other characters. At one point, they go to a water park to make fun of each other there, and finally, in the last ten minutes, they restage the basketball game that won them the championship thirty years ago so that they can make fun of their former rivals. That's kind of it. Maybe the film would have worked if, you know, the insults had been funny or part of a coherent story, but they come off like cheap one-liners from a bad Catskills comedian. You certainly don't care about the dead coach or the "deep" friendships between the men, because it's all so arbitrary and underdeveloped.

The five male stars all play to type: James is the oafish one, Spade is the snarky one, Schneider is the weird one, etc. I would have enjoyed seeing them switch it up and play against type. Instead, they rely on well-established comic personas, and that robs the movie of any surprise it might have had.

While the male characters are presented as cool and witty and fun-loving, the women in the picture come in two varieties: harpies and sex objects. A couple of them are both. What an imbalance! (I can't imagine why an accomplished actress like Maria Bello would want to appear in a role that has her the butt of breastfeeding jokes. Hopefully she was paid well.) There are a few moments where the film tries to be sentimental about marriage and family, but because all the female characters are given such short shrift, those bits feel bogus.

Grown Ups represents Adam Sandler working in his safe zone. This is not the ambitious Sandler of Punch-Drunk Love or Funny People; it's the go-for-the-easy-joke Sandler of (ugh) Big Daddy and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. All the requisite jokes about crotch injuries, horny senior citizens, and homosexuality are duly accounted for. The first two are just played out; the third is borderline offensive. For example, Schneider's character inexplicably has two smokin' hot adult daughters who the others all drool over. When the third shows up, you can bet she embodies all the very worst stereotypes of a butch lesbian. Why Sandler (who co-wrote the script with Fred Wolf) insists on portraying gay people as "icky" has never been explained, yet it's a constant motif in his work.

I realize that Sandler is giving his fans "what they want." The formula has brought him success, so why shake it up? However, with Grown Ups, he pushes his luck too far. The actor has returned to this same well over and over during his career. By now, you can anticipate the "jokes" coming well before they actually arrive because you've been told these jokes for years. Many of Sandler's pictures - and this is one of them - feel like home movies. He assembles a bunch of his best friends and they make a movie that essentially consists of them sitting around cracking each other up. I have no doubt that the cast really enjoyed making Grown Ups, but that doesn't mean it's any fun for us in the audience to watch.

Once or twice, I caught the hint of a smart idea. There's a bit about the wives lusting over a ripped lifeguard at the water park that nicely pays off later on with a subtle exchange between Sandler and James. I wish the movie had a lot more of those bits. But why try to actually be clever when you can shoot someone in the foot with an arrow or have someone land face-first in a pile of animal feces instead? Ah, feces - an appropriate visual metaphor for Grown Ups.

( 1/2 out of four)

Grown Ups is rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.