“GROWN UPS” AN IMMATURE FLOP

I’ve never been a big fan of Adam Sandler, and after sitting through “Grown Ups,” his latest typically lame comedy, I really don’t care whether or not I ever see another one of his films. But I have figured out what bothers me about him.

Sandler has made an incredibly good living by making consistently mediocre or flat out bad movies. Now I don’t begrudge him that. What does upset me, however, is that Sandler earns tons of money for doing moronic things. Sometimes I lose count of the dumb things I do during a single day, and I don’t get a cent for them. Trust me when I tell you that acting like a complete jackass is not all that hard, and if I could get paid for doing so, I would never again have to spend a winter where it’s cold.

Anyhow, “Grown Ups,” which was written by Sandler and Fred Wolf and directed by Dennis Dugan (“The Benchwarmers”), begins in 1978, when a middle school basketball team captures a championship for its beloved coach. A lively celebration at a beautiful lake house follows the victory, and then we move ahead 30 years.

Now of course all the team members are adults (Grown ups if you will!), and they are trying to make something of their lives. Lenny Feder (Sandler) is an important Hollywood agent married to an equally important fashion designer (Salma Hayek Pinault), and they have three obnoxious children who think they are better than anyone else because their parents are rich. Unfortunately the other players have not fared as well as Lenny has.

Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock) is a stay-at-home dad/mom whose wife (Maya Rudolph) has no respect for him and whose mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann) treats him like garbage.  Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James) was a furniture salesman before he was laid off, and his pulchritudinous wife (Maria Bello) insists on continuing to breastfeed their 4-year-old son. Marcus Higgins (David Spade) spends his time chasing and collecting tall blondes, and Rob Hilliard (Rob Schneider) is a weirdo with a wife (Joyce Van Patten) more than 70 years old.

These guys haven’t seen each other since the big game, and when Lenny finds out the coach has died, he contacts all of them and convinces them to return their hometown for the funeral and for a reunion at the lake house on the Fourth of July. And low and behold they all show up complete with their spouses and children. The result is chaos that is more depressing than funny. In the film’s production notes, Dugan explained why the film appealed to him.

“The whole project was really appealing. These real-life friends get together for a summer to make a movie about friends who get together for a summer at a lake house. It’s a bittersweet reunion, because their coach has died, but they’re also happy to see each other. They’re meeting each other’s families – it’s them and their wives and girlfriends and kids and dogs – at a moment when they’re all transitioning in their lives.”

Reunion films have been around for a long time, and this one doesn’t bring anything fresh to the genre. All of the people are compatible enough, but neither the film nor the actors manage to generate any significant humor. Of course some will find a 4-year-old boy who still nurses at his mother’s breast funny, but it did nothing for me. Nor did watching a man play dueling tongues with his wife who is twice his age. The scene that made all the trailers is the one at the water park where the water turns dark blue when anyone urinates in it, and so the element of surprise is missing from that one.

I guess my main problem with the film, in addition to the fact that it’s simply devoid of significant humor, is that not one of the actors succeeded in making me care about his or her character. I couldn’t have cared less about what these people thought, did, or felt. A good film will draw you into the characters’ lives and make you feel their emotions right along with them. A case in point is the classic “When Harry Met Sally.” If you have seen that movie, you know that the ending puts a smile on your face and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The same is true of “The Goodbye Girl,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “You’ve Got Mail.”

One thing about “Grown Ups” (Let’s give it a score of four.) did appeal to me, however. It was filmed in Essex, Mass., and that house on the lake was breathtaking. It’s a place where practically anyone could be blissfully happy while growing old.

I realize that Sandler has a huge following, and that’s why his films have earned billions worldwide, but his juvenile humor just doesn’t appeal to me. As the final credits for this one rolled by, I thought to myself that I had never seen a Sandler film that I liked. Then I corrected myself. “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Reign Over Me” are two atypical Sandler movies that illustrate what a gifted actor he is and demonstrate the depth of his talent. So what makes these films so different from the stereotypical Sandler fare? It’s simple. In both of them he plays grown ups.

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