Reuniting 1990s “Saturday Night Live” castmates Adam Sandler, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Chris Rock (with Kevin James filling in for Chris Farley and Tim Meadows making a cameo), “Grown Ups” delivers precious few laughs for the sheer volume of comedy talent on offer. Softer and more family values-oriented than virtually anything that rowdy crowd have done solo, this star-stuffed venture should play especially well in places where “Wild Hogs” made a killing, while resuscitating the eroding B.O. of co-writer-producer Sandler’s recent oeuvre.
With no reward to show for tapping into the more personal, vulnerable side of himself in “Funny People,” Sandler chooses to kick back and crack wise with old friends in a loosely scripted summer-vacation comedy overseen by longtime conspirator Dennis Dugan. The tame (to the point of toothless) result feels like the sort of movie Sandler’s “Funny People” character might have made after surviving his near-death bout with cancer.
The five actors play one-time teammates, first seen as gawky teenage versions of themselves winning a basketball championship in 1978. Flash forward 30 years to find each tied up in the petty concerns of his adult life. It seems inspirational “Coach Buzzer” (Blake Clark) couldn’t have kicked the bucket at a better time, his passing giving the pals a much-needed excuse to catch up at the lake house where they spent their formative years.
As Lenny Feder, Sandler is the group’s ringleader, a rich and powerful talent agent with none of the abrasive traits that accompany the profession in real life (his BlackBerry makes just one appearance all weekend). Lenny is married to a fashion-designer wife (Salma Hayek Pinault), saddled with three silver-spoon kids (Jake Goldberg, Cameron Boyce and Alexys Nycole Sanchez) and mildly embarrassed about the full-time nanny (Di Quon) they employ — not a particularly strong case of someone needing to have his priorities readjusted.
The others are less successful but relatively happy as well, ranging from lawn-furniture mogul Eric Lamonsoff (James), whose wife (Maria Bello) still breast-feeds his 4-year-old son, to stay-at-home dad Kurt McKenzie (Rock), who has his hands full with two kids, a pregnant spouse (Maya Rudolph) and her flatulent mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann). Spade plays career bachelor Marcus Higgins, who gamely earns the pic’s PG-13 rating by baring his backside, while touchy-feely vegan Rob Hilliard (Schneider) is on his fourth marriage, to a woman (Joyce Van Patten) old enough to be funnier than the jokes about her age suggest.
Sandler and co-writer Fred Wolf spread the humiliation evenly among the cast, generously giving each actor a chance to pursue laughs at the expense of his own dignity (targets range from James’ weight to Schneider’s bad pompadour toupee). The five comedians seem to be having a grand time of it, and Dugan spends nearly as much time filming them laughing at one another as he does on the jokes themselves, leaving the distinct impression that a behind-the-scenes documentary of the “SNL” reunion might have been far more entertaining than watching the same actors catch up in character.
Apart from the constant barrage of insults the comics throw at one another (most of which were probably ad-libbed along the way), the script feels pretty slack. Clearly designed to reinforce a certain blue-collar status quo, pic offers few insights into the sort of professional, parental or relationship crises real adults face, reinforcing the suspicion that “Grown Ups'” target aud isn’t grown-ups at all.
With no real conflict to speak of, apart from a no-stakes rematch with the team they beat all those years ago (captained by fellow “SNL” vet Colin Quinn), “Grown Ups” gives these real-life friends a chance to reconnect with not only one another but also the all-American values (beer, boobs, BBQ and sports) celebrated every Fourth of July across the country, with a loony Steve Buscemi cameo and plenty of gratuitous objectification thrown in for good measure (in the form of Rob’s preposterously leggy daughters for the guys and “Water Park Stud” Alec Musser for the ladies).
For all their good-natured squabbling, the characters in “Grown Ups” are so ready to make peace with each other, the film can hardly get to its group-hug scene fast enough. The result is easily the safest and least subversive Happy Madison comedy released in the two decades since these guys started on “SNL” (especially after such risky Dugan-Sandler ventures as Israeli super-spy satire “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” and gay-marriage sendup “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”). Had the core foursome pledged to reteam 20 years later, “Grown Ups” certainly isn’t the project they had in mind.