I would never say that I’m a huge Adam Sandler fan, but from his early work on Saturday Night Live and his debut comedy album, They’re All Gonna Laugh At You, the man can make me laugh. My first cinematic experience with Sandler, however, was neither Billy Madison nor Happy Gilmore but the Midnight Run/48 Hours rip-off, Bulletproof. I remember how hilarious that movie was and have since remained at least an interested viewer throughout his career, as hit or miss as it is. Now with Sandler literally scraping the bottom of the barrel and teaming up with almost everyone he’s costarred with before, he unleashes Grown Ups upon us, merely one week after we thought summer was saved with Toy Story 3.
There are definitely those Sandler films which still make me laugh: say, Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and even Little Nicky if I’m in the right mood. However, there are also those that never have and never will amuse me: The Waterboy, Mr. Deeds, The Longest Yard, Click, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Things just keep getting lousier as his career progresses and the less said about his ultimate monstrosity, Eight Crazy Nights, the better.
To say there's a plot to Grown Ups would be a huge overstatement. There is absolutely no plot to speak of here. Simply put, 30 years after their championship-winning junior high basketball season, Sandler & Co. take a weekend together in remembrance of their now-deceased coach with their families in tow in case they have to break up the shit and piss jokes with false moments of heart. Hilarity supposedly ensues but apparently all it took to convince Columbia Pictures to bankroll his latest exercise in aloofness was a pitch that could only have gone something like this: “Hey, let’s make a reunion-type film with me and all my friends. C’mon, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider… with enough of my hilarious friends joking around and having a grand time the audience has to laugh.” Somehow they also managed to talk Maria Bello and Salma Hayek into four-year-old-breastfeeding and toilet-seat-cover-stuck-to-their-dress jokes.
Unfortunately they do laugh and at nothing more than improvisation at its worst. The “script” is credited to Sandler and hack screenwriter Fred Wolf (Strange Wilderness, Without a Paddle, Dickie Roberts, Joe Dirt, Black Sheep, and a stint for SNL during its most humdrum seasons). But it’s very obvious that most of the time they just plopped the cast in front of the camera and said, “Make offensive, PG-13 rated jokes the MPAA will allow about this now…” While there may be lots of previously funny comics included, nothing is funny in this film save for one line from Sandler as Schneider’s character roles up to the cabin in his Smart Car. One line an uproarious 102 minutes does not make.
Admittedly, there are some films in Sandler's oeuvre that are nice surprises along the way, with some accomplished directors guiding him for a change. From Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me, and even Funny People, when you have the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, James L. Brooks, Mike Binder, and Judd Apatow leading the way, they find their own ways to fine tune what works best for Sandler’s strengths and try to not let his maniacally egotistical side come out to play the whole runtime.
Director Dennis Dugan has been behind the camera for a lot of Sandler’s career for better and worse. While he may have brought us the likes of Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy, he’s also responsible for Chuck & Larry and Zohan. Anything not Sandler-related tends to be even worse for Dugan with so-called “films” such as National Security and The Benchwarmers. While you could call his directing choices “critic proof,” what they really are is sloppy, lazy, and downright lowest common denominator filmmaking. While the crowds eager to see these films know what they’re getting into, they should be asking for more by now. Having suffered through all of these movies myself for almost two decades, am I wrong to feel deserving of something more than their standard garbage?
Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures