After playing the grumpy mid-lifer protagonist in Judd Apatow’s lame, anti-funny Funny People, Adam Sandler is up to (down to?) his old lowbrow tricks again. In Grown Ups, which he cowrote and stars in, Sandler delivers some ripe and tasteless summer-flick punches, enough to warrant a look-see for desperate off-season multiplexers, but not smart enough to finish the business it starts out with.
This time around, though, he wants to have it all. Sandler, no longer a kid, wants to be both the kindly buffoon he built his career around and the responsible father and voice of reason amid his mixed socio-salad of friends. A clever narrative conceit and structure, involving old childhood friends gathering for their basketball coach’s funeral 30 years later, allows Sandler to juggle pure childishness with adolescent idiocy (fart, pee-pee, and leering-male jokes) and the wise, mediating adult yarn.
Families of these once-champion teen hoopsters come together for a weekend at a lakeside cabin. Sandler is the gilded “Joe Hollywood,” a high-powered agent with spoiled-brat showbiz kids and a “spicy enchilada” wife (Salma Hayek). Other Sandler cohorts and SNL-branded allies fold into the motley mix, including Chris Rock, wannabe playboy David Spade, and Rob Schneider as a bizarro character who’s described as “if Elvis was an oompaloompa.” (Steve Buscemi also flies into the script midstream for a nutty cameo, raising our flagging audience spirits.) Generally, sparks and jokes fly, and the family-values-packed warm fuzzies descend at irregular intervals.
But the juggling act gets old and phony. At some point deep into the friendly malarkey-making of the flick, right around the time the party heads over to the water park, things begin to take a dive. Suddenly, whatever tautness or empathy kept the film afloat dissipates, and we’re left with a lot of filler and a palpable fall-apart factor. Suddenly, we wonder why we were laughing so hard earlier and wish we had spent the time alphabetizing the CD collection or playing basketball with the kids.