Adam Sandler spends more time laughing at jokes than making them in Grown Ups, perhaps the slackest, shabbiest comedy in the star’s increasingly dreadful oeuvre. Putting Couples Retreat to shame in the film-as-studio-funded-vacation department, director-par-crapcellence Dennis Dugan’s film teams Sandler with his old SNL mates Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade—as well as Kevin James, here baldly subbing in for the late Chris Farley—in a tale about zero, zilch, and not a single freaking thing. The setup is that, 30 years after winning a youth basketball championship, the five friends and their families reunite at a lakeside cabin after the funeral of their beloved coach. And, um, that’s it. There’s no story to speak of, and certainly no conflict; the only drama concerns whether or not such a high-profile project will at some point muster the discipline and energy to concoct something faintly resembling a plot. It doesn’t, instead opting to merely coast on the supposed hilarity of its leading man’s banter, which is of a playfully nasty sort, usually taking place as the characters aimlessly stand around, and is always far more amusing to the on-screen participants than to any conscious viewer.
Sandler is Hollywood super-agent Lenny, whose main problem in life is that he’s embarrassed about employing a nanny (upper-class guilt!) and horrified that his sons are spoiled brats who demand Voss bottled water at restaurants and wear clothes fit only for the Milan fashion shows run by wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek). Woe is the rich cinema mogul à la Funny People, although at least in Judd Apatow’s dramedy there was an internal struggle to pivot the jokiness around. Here, there’s nothing to the slipshod proceedings but tossed-off wisecracks that seem to have been made up on the spot. In rough order, the film’s jokes are: You’re old! You’re fat! You farted! You fell down! You’re old! You’re fat! You’re drunk! You’re womanly! You peed! That dog sounds funny! Crotch shot! Male ass shot! You’re old! You’re fat! We rule! And, mercifully, cue end credits. To discuss the film’s humor is to denigrate the term, since without a guiding concept, any sort of nuance to the characters or their circumstances, and any rhythm from one incident to the next, the entire endeavor is reduced to merely A-list masturbation, a flimsy example of smug stars thinking that even their spontaneously improvised shit smells like roses.
So makeshift that the script, in desperate need of suspense, introduces and resolves Lenny and Roxanne’s marital conflict in the same scene, Dugan’s fiasco celebrates its males while predictably reducing their female counterparts to either pairs of drool-worthy boobs (Hayek, perpetually breast-feeding Maria Bello, pregnant Maya Rudolph, the two anonymous hotties playing Schneider’s daughters) or objects of overweight-and-overage ridicule (Ebony Jo-Ann’s grandma, Joyce Van Patten’s elderly wife of Schneider’s doofus). Rock is made fun of for being a feminine housedad and Schneider for loving older women, while James gets to chuckle along at gags about his heft, an aged-looking Spade suffers some slaps to the face, and a raft of familiar Sandler pals (Colin Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Dan Patrick) make cameos that further the impression that the film is merely a cheap excuse to goof off with buddies. Only in a late back-and-forth between Tim Meadows and Chris Rock over which one is the town’s black guy and which one is the town’s “other black guy”—an argument that amusingly, self-referentially alludes to their token status on SNL—does the comedy seem to have even been thought out beforehand; everything else is desperate riffing in a mirthless void.
Characterizations, as well as a half-baked lesson about the superiority of modest living to indulgent jet-setting, never get past the embryonic stage in Grown Ups, which is so flimsy that it even fails to develop the maturation-of-the-man-child dynamic suggested by its title (and complementary poster of the juvenile headliners on a water slide). Yet what’s truly repugnant about Sandler and company putzing around on camera and then selling it to the public as an honest-to-goodness summer blockbuster release is the arrogance that accompanies the lackadaisical action, a sense of entitlement radiated by both the stars’ effort and by their protagonists, who ultimately learn that if you’re winners as kids, you’ll also automatically be winners as adults (replete with out-of-your-league ladies). So much better than everyone else, Lenny ultimately takes pity on a former rival by throwing a basketball rematch game, thus providing him with a condescendingly altruistic moral victory to go along with his wealth, sexy spouse and loyal friends. “[Life’s] second act—that’s where the depth comes in,” muses Schneider’s granny wife, but in Sandler and company’s case, it’s self-satisfied sloppiness and laziness that have come with age.