x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Grown Ups

Comic actors sleepwalk through thin characters and an all-but-absent plot.

From left, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Adam Sandler and David Spade in Grown Ups.
From left, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Adam Sandler and David Spade in Grown Ups.

Adam Sandler doesn't make movies for the critics (at least, not since Punch Drunk Love), but for his buddies it's a different story. The most successful 1990s graduate of the long-running Saturday Night Live comedy show, Sandler is the prime mover behind this all-star cast reunion.

Five friends reassemble in their Massachusetts hometown for the funeral of a beloved high school basketball coach. They haven't seen each other in years. Lenny (Sandler) is a big shot Hollywood agent with a glamorous fashion designer wife (Salma Hayek), a couple of kids and, though he's ashamed to admit it, a nanny. Eric (Kevin James, standing in for the deceased Saturday Night Live vet Chris Farley), is mostly characterised by his XXL paunch and the fact that his wife (Maria Bello) is still breast-feeding their four-year-old child.

Kurt (Chris Rock) is house-husband to the very pregnant Deanne (Maya Rudolph) and gets zero respect from his mother-in-law. Rob (Rob Schneider) is a much divorced, New Age guru who is madly in love with a woman old enough to be his mum (75-year-old Joyce Van Patten). And Marcus (David Spade) is an inveterate hedonist and womaniser, but the only one of the gang who arrives alone. Sharing a big lakeside house for the weekend, the guys compare notes and try to entice their children to put aside their PlayStations and venture into the great outdoors.

Directed on remote control by Dennis Dugan, this isn't at all the melancholic, mid-life crisis movie the synopsis might suggest. Rather, these grown ups remain overgrown kids at heart, cracking puerile one-liners and concocting mean pranks. There is an endless stream of crude gags - The Rules of the Game it ain't - but this sometimes cruel physical humour comes with an over-easy, decidedly settled mood of thinly disguised contentment.

Complacency isn't a spur to great comedy, unfortunately, and while the stars' familiarity and ease with each other is obvious, Sandler and his co-writer Frank Wolf struggle to make these thin characters interesting enough to be around even for an hour and a half, let alone an entire weekend. Something vaguely resembling a plot thread rears its head in the shape of resentful townies who made up the losing team in the high-school basketball championship all those years ago. They apparently never got over the humiliation. The film's condescension to these working-class yokels knows no bounds.

As for the women, all of whom clearly deserve better than these bozos, as usual they're stuck with the crumbs. At least the audience knows exactly how they feel.