Adam Sandler has played a man-child in comedies for so long that it has gone way beyond the point of being old hat. It started in the ‘90s with his days on Saturday Night Live and has prolonged for years thanks to comedies like Billy Madison, Big Daddy and Anger Management. But as he grew up his audience grew up with him. Teenagers who watched him lose a fistfight to Bob Barker on the golf course when Happy Gilmore opened in theaters in 1996 are now in their midtwenties and are part of the workforce. While they may prolong the charade of professional decorum at the office, their inner man-child is ready to burst out like a facehugger from Aliens.
Sandler started to switch career paths with the release of Click in 2006. Married with children, the actor began making features with middle-aged families in mind. Movies like Bedtime Stories and Paul Blart: Mall Cop (which his company Happy Madison produced) are comfort food for families looking to be entertained. Grown Ups is like those comedies, but to my surprise it is the best thing Happy Madison has produced in years. The advertisements made it look like Couples Retreat‘s distant cousin, Family Retreat. In other words, it looked bad with a capital “B”.
But Grown Ups doesn’t fall into the same trap as Couples Retreat. Here all the couples are generally likable. The bickering that does happen is short and the resolution leaves everyone happy. Also helping the comedy is that it has little plot. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but in a comedy that involves a reunion it doesn’t need to be supported with four or five different subplots. Sandler and his friends are allowed to go full bore with wisecracks and potty humor. When the comedy treads into sentimental territory, the production is at a standstill. It’s like the moment near the end of an episode of Full House or Family Matters where the music hits and it is time for the parent to instill some important life-affirming lesson. These are rarities in Grown Ups, a comedy that is more about making people laugh.
Thirty years after winning a junior high basketball championship, the five players – Lenny (Adam Sandler), Kurt (Chris Rock), Eric (Kevin James), Marcus (David Spade), and Rob (Rob Schneider) – are reunited upon hearing of their coach’s passing. A lot has changed for the five friends. Lenny is a Hollywood agent, representing the Brad Pitts of the world, married to fashion designer Roxanne (Salma Hayek) and has three spoiled brats who text and play videogames all day. Eric has a wife, Sally (Maria Bello), who continues to breast-feed their youngest son who is four. Kurt is Mr. Mom in the relationship, spending his days with Rachel Ray, while his wife, Deanne (Maya Rudolph), is the breadwinner of the family. Rob, a vegan who is attracted to older women, is married to the much-older Gloria (Joyce Van Patten), who is well into her seventies. Marcus has no commitments to weigh him down. He’s also the only person in the group to have never grown up.
The story takes place at the lake house where the five friends celebrated after they won the championship. Now they commiserate over their fallen coach on a Fourth of July weekend. Over the weekend, Lenny’s spoiled kids learn that televisions didn’t always have flat screens and that playing meant going outside. Grown Ups doesn’t try to be nothing more than five buds hanging out and having a good time. Without a lame plot device, the friends are able to be wisenheimers and joke around. There are some good one-liners to be had, though there are some bad jokes too. Let’s just say toe jokes in relation to sports figures get old fast.
Still reeling after the commercial dud that was Funny People, Sandler takes a more reserved role with Grown Ups. Though he gets top billing, he lets his friends have the best comedic moments. It could be because he planned it that way (Sandler co-wrote the script with Fred Wolf), or because he likes his buds to share in his good fortune (which explains all the cameos). Kevin James carries over his King of Queens and Paul Blart fans as a master of physical comedy. Chris Rock has some great facial expressions and apron-wearing hysterics. And then there’s David Spade and Rob Schneider. Neither should be allowed to command his own movie, but both are almost tolerable in supporting roles. The women shine in a few scenes, especially Hayek and Bello in the looks department – wait until Schneider’s daughters make an appearance; two out of the three look like they stepped off the set of a ‘80s music video – but this is mostly a guys’ movie.
Grown Ups isn’t a great comedy by any means, but in the Happy Madison cannon it is one of the better offerings of the last few years. While dramatic moments are unwarranted, I get what Sandler wants to accomplish. Married with kids he wants humor with a moral lesson. But the interludes seem better suited for sitcoms. Still, the comedy is comfort food for families looking to have a good time.
Director: Dennis Dugan Notable Cast: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph Writer(s): Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!