(by Dustin Putman
"Grown Ups" features a sprawling, voluminous cast, a diverse collection of actors and personalities who all look to be having a blast—more fun, it should be noted, than the audience watching them. They all play fairly likable individuals when they aren't taking crass potshots at each other, and one can easily imagine how good the film might have been with a decent script. Reminiscent of "The Big Chill" and "The Great Outdoors," only less wise than the former, less clever than the latter, and more juvenile than both combined, the picture goes about its laid-back way without working up a sweat. Here and there are tinges of what might have been—a nostalgic slice-of-life about friends and families making fond memories on a vacation they'll always remember but can never relive. To get to the nice moments, though, there's a lot of crap the viewer must literally and figuratively wade through. At least it's a step up from the unbearable "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Article continues below
As twelve-year-olds, few people made more of a positive impression on them than their kind, inspirational basketball coach Bobby "Buzzer" Ferdinando (Blake Clark). Thirty years later, former best friends Lenny (Adam Sandler), Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider), along with their respective wives and children, reunite for Buzzer's funeral followed by a week-long Fourth of July vacation at a New England lakehouse from their past. Lenny, one of the self-proclaimed "biggest agents in Hollywood," sees the trip as an opportunity for his three kids to put down the video games and spoiled luxuries of their regular life and recognize the simple pleasures of being children and spending time outside. His wife, fashion designer Roxanne (Salma Hayek), comes to agree with him when she realizes her work is getting in the way of being the kind of mother she wants to be. Naturally, she cancels her trip to Milan for Fashion Week and decides to stick around.
Directed by Dennis Dugan (2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan"), "Grown Ups" is overflowing with characters. Even if the actors are playing lesser parts than they deserve, screenwriters Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf (2008's "Strange Wilderness"), if nothing else, manage to juggle the heaping ensemble fairly well. In addition to the leads and Lenny's family, there is also Eric's wife Sally (Maria Bello), still happily breast-feeding their four-year-old son, and an insistent elder daughter Donna (Ada-nicole Sanger); Kurt's pregnant working-woman wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph), their two children, and Deanne's ball-busting, bunion-suffering mother Mama Ronzoni (Ebony Jo-Ann); Rob's energetic 75-year-old wife Gloria (Joyce Van Patten), as well as his three grown daughters from previous marriages, the equally bodacious Jasmine (Madison Riley) and Amber (Jamie Chung) and the short, squat Bridget (Ashley Loren); and Lenny's hardworking Asian nanny Rita (Di Quon), who he tries to pass off as their visiting foreign exchange student. Marcus is mercifully single and comes alone.
With a plot that is virtually nonexistent and conflicts that usually solve themselves within the same scene that they arise, the movie basically boils down to a bunch of buddies hanging out, having a good time, and regularly teasing each other as if they were still twelve. Is the irony of the title blatant enough for you? The frequent broad aims at comedy are pretty lame. Watch as Eric falls off a rope swing and tumbles down a ravine! Stare transfixed as the guys play arrow roulette and Rob is pierced clear through his foot! Giggle (or don't) as Marcus gets his face smashed in doody twice! In one scene, Lenny slaps Rob across the head with, first, dehydrated fruit, and second, a bag full of bacon. Mama Ronzoni farts a lot. Eric's dog has cut vocal chords and can't properly bark. Jokes are made at the expense of the elderly (Gloria gets the brunt of this form of abuse), the overweight (Eric is the primary target of this), and those that don't exactly look like beauty models (Rob's odd-daughter-out Bridget). Not a whole lot of it is amusing, but somehow the film doesn't come off as particularly mean-spirited. Rob clearly adores Gloria, and the rest of the gang see the error of their ways and wholly accept her, too, after she delivers a lovely climactic speech about the value of one's second act in life. Eric's weight is made light of, but it's done in a jokey manner between guys, and no mention is ever made of his daughter's extra pounds. Likewise, the gag of Bridget not matching up to the beauty of Jasmine and Amber is more a silent gag than one spoken about, and the three girls are shown as close, caring siblings despite their outward differences.
Adam Sandler (2009's "Funny People"), Kevin James (2009's "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"), Chris Rock (2010's "Death at a Funeral"), David Spade (2006's "The Benchwarmers"), and Rob Schneider (2005's "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo") share an easy-going chemistry, and no wonder; they're all real-life friends. These will not be remembered as career performances, however, mostly because they are always battling for consequential screen time and something approaching actual people to play. The supporting players fare strikingly better and get the handful of laughs that there are. A step down though it is from her award-worthy breakthrough turn in 2009's "Away We Go," Maya Rudolph still manages a lot with a little as Deanne, Kurt's strong-willed wife. As Gloria, Joyce Van Patten (2008's "Marley & Me") is a good sport with a warm, sweet aura. Ebony Jo-Ann (2010's "When in Rome"), as Mama Ronzoni, is a delight in the way she so effortlessly delivers zingers. And Di Quon (2006's "Pulse") is a comic standout as the put-upon Rita. A running joke where Lenny tries to hide the fact that his family has a nanny by telling everyone that Rita is an exchange student—much to her own confusion—is about as funny as things get. When Roxanne questions the big final exam Rita says she has coming up, Rita replies that she, too, has no idea what he's talking about. "He just keeps giving me books and telling me to study!" she says with exasperation.
When "Grown Ups" cuts it out with the lowest-common-denominator material and simply portrays the families bonding during their vacation is when things are more enjoyable. Lenny's and Kurt's kids invite Eric's daughter to skip stones with them, a loving gesture that Roxanne overhears. The whole group goes to dinner together. They boat. They hike. They visit a water park. Picnics are had. There is late-night dancing between the couples to the sounds of Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady." The five guys are pulled into a basketball rematch against their losing opponents from 1978, and their behavior is actually fairly respectful on both sides. The families watch the fireworks. The characters' misgivings in their marriages are talked about and conveniently solved. When director Dennis Dugan opts to pull back and keep things more reserved, observing the interplay between characters, is when he sells it. More often than not, though, he is overwhelmed by the sheer size of his cast and the wrongful assumption that audiences want the bulk of the running time to be contributed to bodily functions and predictable pratfalls. There's a chance grown-ups might have genuinely liked "Grown Ups" had the film's overriding maturity level been raised above that of an elementary schooler's.