Thoughts of Adam Sandler leading a comedy always drift back to the humorous absurdity of his earlier work. He seems at his best when playing a man-child, wreaking havoc on polite society with his rough manners. As Sandler gets older and continues to develop into a more serious actor, his more recent Happy Madison productions appear to have a consistent family-friendly edge. Grown Ups is no different, which may disappoint some who were hoping for crude humor; however, there’s still plenty of chaotic fun to be had here thanks in large part to the talented cast. Just don’t expect much plot.
Lenny (Adam Sandler) and his friends Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider) were once part of a school basketball team when they were preteens. Now grown men, Lenny is a powerful Hollywood agent married to fashion designer Roxanne (Salma Hayek), Eric is married to amply bosomed Sally (Maria Bello), Kurt is a househusband to domineering Deanne (Maya Rudolph), Rob is married to geriatric Gloria and Marcus is a womanizer. When they receive word that their former childhood coach has passed away the friends organize a multi-family trip to a remote cabin they frequented as youngsters. During their stay the grown ups take trips down memory lane, reaffirm friendships and divulge secrets.
With so many veteran dramatic and comedic actors in this film the screen is literally crowded with talent. The camera just has to point in any given direction to capture a funny moment. Sandler and Rock trade witty, acerbic barbs. James turns his brand of physical comedy into an art form. Schneider’s weird straight man performance works perfectly here. Spade plays himself, which is enough. Regrettably, the pressure to create memorable vignettes for all of these recognizable faces renders Grown Ups somewhat without a plot. A few beats creep up when Lenny runs into former court rival (Colin Quinn) who is still sore over his championship loss to Lenny’s team 30 years ago. There’s also a very small character arc for Lenny’s family as they’re transported from their upscale suburban lifestyle to the new bucolic setting of the film proper, but there isn’t much more in terms of a satisfying story.
Nevertheless, the comedy is still – by and large – genuinely humorous. Laughs from the gut are few and far between, but that brand of comedy was never Happy Madison Productions’ style. Instead, audiences will be treated to several random scenes of people getting hurt unexpectedly. Consider Kevin James swinging on a rope only to slam into a tree and crush a bird. Or imagine a seemingly innocuous scene of stone skipping where a character is pummeled by a rock. The violence is sudden and visceral and viewers will grimace in sympathy even when they can see the gag coming, but the characters typically bounce back like toons unless future physical gags rely on a character suffering something more permanent. While the comedy is all well and good, they mostly seem largely indulgent and exist within the vacuum of their respective scenes, like when the guys get together to play “arrow roulette” which is a game where an arrow is shot straight up and the men must run for their lives before it impales one of them. It’s a funny concept, but completely random in terms of the story.
The casting is spot on here and the five men truly do seem like they’ve been friends their whole lives. It definitely helps that all of the actors have intertwined professional histories. Regardless, their chemistry is the best part of the film and watching the guys interact will elicit smiles and conjure memories of good times with personal friends. With such a good combination of actors it’s a shame the film didn’t give them a solid story to work with.
With all of the sight gags assaulting the screen, the expectation by the audience for crude comedy will be palpable. The presence of children in the film, however, mitigates that possibility and limits the lowest level of comedy to farts, close-ups of rear ends and urine gags. On the flipside, there’s a strong family message in Grown Ups as well, which may urge parents to bring their children, which would be a mistake, considering the willful acts of violence and sexual innuendo. As a result, the film walks the fat line of middle-ground, leaving audiences with a feeling of unrealized potential – in either direction.