There’s an old saying in life that I believe was attributed to Confucius on his deathbed. It said, “Throwing a lot of spice at shit doesn’t make shit not shit.” Okay, maybe he didn’t actually say that, but he (or someone of equal magnitude) should have. Anyways, that quote is pertinent to Grown Ups because the spice is the ensemble cast of current and has been comedic heavyweights and the shit is the movie they’ve thrown their collective weight behind.
When their junior high school basketball coach dies, childhood friends: Lenny Feder (Adam Sandler), Marcus Higgins (David Spade), Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James), Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock), and Rob Hilliard (Rob Schneider), return to their lakeside roots to pay respect. Conveniently, in the 30 years that have passed, they’ve all grown into people with dissimilar lifestyles and attitudes that can be laughed at and are in dire need of correction. Eric is married to Sally (Maria Bello) and is a successful furniture businessman. His four-year-old is still nursing. Lenny is married to Roxanne (Salma Hayek) and is a happening Hollywood agent. He and his high end fashion designer wife have brats for children. Kurt is Mr. Mom and has to endure a bitchy pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph) and a bitchy mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann). Rob is married to a 75 year-old woman (Joyce Van Patten) and has three grown and vocal girls from other marriages. Marcus, well, he’s the single one — every movie of this type has to have one.
Thankfully, I think, it doesn’t take a degree in advanced particle physics to quickly come to the conclusion that once the characters are semi-fleshed out (you’re lucky you get that much), the bulk of Grown Ups was going to be string of setup scenes poking fun at each of the guys lives and their apparent lack of maturity. What does come as a surprise is the lack of innovation for the jokes themselves — I can’t recall a wildly original one in the bunch.
What is offered up is typical fare: Prat falls by Kevin James (who has been tasked with replacing Chris Farley in what amounts to a Saturday Night Live reunion flick). Breast feeding jokes that are used ten times too many. Farts galore from Mama Ronzoni (Jo-Ann). Van Patten is funny cos she’s old. On the plus side, Sandler stays low-key throughout Grown Ups which is a nice change of pace from the baby babble he usually calls funny. Some would also say having shit smeared in David Spade’s face is funny, overdue and well deserved.
When the movie does find its way to the more serious material — weight, age and beauty issues, and marital strife — it doesn’t come across hollow, even though all the group’s problems are solved with relative ease. And whenever, the moment drags on too long, director Dennis Dugan does well to change course back to the funny stuff, even if the funny stuff isn’t as funny as it could have or should have been.
Undoubtedly, the cast of Grown Ups had a great time making the movie; after all they’re all best of friends off of the set. Unfortunately, the good time they had making the film didn’t translate particularly well to watching it — it’s a clear case of a joke being funnier in person than when it is told by a guy who was there.