Grown Ups, which fleeced audiences of $41 million at the box office last weekend, tries very hard to efface all of the mysterious, humorous, and cosmically strange moments that mark one's passage into adult life. The film, co-written by Adam Sandler and directed by his pal Dennis Dugan, also avoids any uncomfortable or truthful insights about adult financial success/failure, marriage, parenthood, and aging. Because it succeeds at its mission most of the time, it is often awe-inspiringly terrible.
The film aspires to be a harmless, halfway decent comic meander among friends, sort of a Caddyshack for haggard parents. Sandler and his fellow Saturday Night Live buddies Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and David Spade (with Kevin James as Ghost of Farleys Past) play former junior high basketball team members who reunite at their coach's funeral 30 years later and decide to keep the good times rolling by renting out a lake cabin for a week. These man-boys pass the time by ribbing each other about their pasts, their presents, and their looks until the end of their stay, which is marked by an inevitable (but decently truthful) hoops rematch.
Here and there are glimmers of recognizable humanity, such as an uncomfortable macho showdown at a water park and a late-night refrigerator raid where James and Sandler swig water from gallon jugs and bask in the renewed sexual appetites of their spouses. Far from great, these scenes show that it's nearly impossible to make a totally worthless film, especially one filled with so many performers who have done riskier, more heartfelt work.
The chummy, self-congratulatory Elks Lodge tone of the male actors' wisecracks creates a suffocating, solipsistic atmosphere that only the most arrested adolescents or disgruntled parents can breathe. Grown Ups is a proudly stupid film, and if you don't want to see a sloppy, farty PG-13 Comedy Central roast sponsored by a fried-chicken franchise, then tough titty. That goes double for the ladies, BTW: The boys' wives (Maria Bello, Salma Hayek, and Maya Rudolph) are pitiable caricatures at best and shrieking, castrating harpies at worst. It is no surprise that all the comics here — especially James, whose geniality and physical grace are only used to shoulder his usual dancing-bear fattie antics — guffaw at their canned ball-busting and intone "Good one" to each other so often that they feel like shills at an SNL taping.
The parade of mean-spirited and unfunny insults leaves you wondering why these men stayed friends in the first place. However, Sandler and Dugan's straight-faced answer is sort of surprising. Toward the end of the film, Schneider's wife, an ancient hippie played by Joyce Van Patten, begins her wise-old-owl speech by asserting that "with love comes hostility." Interesting idea, no? But the rest of the speech (and the remainder of the film) weakly argues that love and hostility are not just inseparable but essential to any functioning relationship. Now maybe that's a bunch of veteran male comedians' form of the truth; it would be alarming if it were anyone else's.