There is one thing that “Grown Ups” does well, and that’s portraying the affectionate teasing that comprises a huge part of how male friends communicate. Watching these guys sit around and joke with each other, you can believe that they’re old friends, and that this comes naturally to them.
But that’s only because they ARE old friends. It’s Adam Sandler and his “SNL” buddies David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Chris Rock. (The role of Fat Guy is played by Kevin James. I miss Chris Farley, but I’m glad he’s not around to be dragged in to this.) Their camaraderie is believable not because of anything the movie does, but because we’re accustomed to seeing them perform together. If five random, unaffiliated men played these roles — and played them with the same lazy, uncommitted level of acting — you’d never buy that they were friends.
The guys played for a champion city-league basketball team in 1978, when they were all about 12, and have now reunited for the funeral of their coach. We gather that they’ve kept in touch over the years and have seen one another now and then, but this is the first time in ages that they’ve all been together at once. The characters are spelled out quickly and broadly: Lenny (Sandler) is a super-rich Hollywood agent whose children are spoiled, over-entitled brats; Kurt (Rock) is an emasculated house-husband who loves to cook; Marcus (Spade) is a swingin’ bachelor who loves alcohol and loose women; Rob (Schneider) is a touchy-feely New Age type with a thing for older ladies; Eric (James) is fat and falls down a lot.
In the grand sitcom tradition, these schlubby men have hot wives: Sandler gets Salma Hayek, Rock gets Maya Rudolph, and James gets Maria Bello. Rob Schneider has Joyce Van Patten, who is very old. That’s the joke. Rob digs old chicks! Get it?
The men, their wives, and their children use the coach’s death as an excuse to rent a lake house for the Fourth of July weekend. Here the men will reflect on their long friendship and engage in the type of immature behavior that grows less and less funny the older the participants get. The film, written by Sandler and frequent collaborator Fred Wolf and directed by Dennis Dugan (“Big Daddy”), captures the juvenility — it just doesn’t know what to do with it. So Rob is a soft-hearted vegan who makes pancakes out of dehydrated bananas. Marcus drinks constantly and falls face-first into a pile of manure. Lenny, trying to downplay his absurd wealth, tells everyone his kids’ nanny is a foreign exchange student rather than an employee. Kurt is henpecked by his mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann) and says the type of things that usually the WIFE says, not the HUSBAND, ha ha. And Eric’s fatness destroys a swimming pool and prevents a motor boat from pulling him on a lake, because he is so fat, ha ha, etc.
(I hate to point this out, especially since “Grown Ups” spends so much time declaring otherwise, but Kevin James isn’t very fat. If you’re going to have a character whose sole trait is being obese, you need to cast an actor who is actually obese. I shouldn’t have to spell this out.)
There is great comic potential in seeing old friends react to how they’ve changed over the years, and how their families — friends-in-law, really — react to each other. “Grown Ups” gets a lot of mileage out of Rob having a much older wife, but its only other joke of this nature is that Eric’s wife still breastfeeds their 4-year-old son. You can tell the movie is proud of this joke, too, because it comes back to it over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, obliterating any measure of humor the gag might have once held.
Oh, and the basketball team they beat 30 years ago demands a rematch, and two of the team members are Colin Quinn and Tim Meadows, and ugh.
At some point in the process, someone obviously wanted this to have a “Big Chill” sort of introspective element. The men are supposed to learn something about themselves and their relationships on this trip. That’s why Lenny’s wife hollers at him, “Stop trying to manage everyone, and take some responsibility!” This would have been more effective if the movie had ever, prior to this point, established Lenny as a character who tries to manage everyone and refuses to take responsibility. There are similarly ham-fisted attempts to show the men discovering truths about love and marriage, none of them effective.
So yes, these fellows joke around a lot. They kid one another about their weight, their hair, and their height. It seems like it was probably very enjoyable for the four “SNL” alumni and their new hefty friend to sit around a beautiful lake and make this movie. To be fun for us, though, it would need to have more than a half-dozen scattered laughs, and to quit trying so desperately to squeeze hilarity out of old, tired, sophomoric set-ups. We’ve seen all of this before. In fact, we’ve outgrown it.
D+ (1 hr., 42 min.; )