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Review: 'Grown Ups' features big names but falls short

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“Grown Ups”
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider
Rated: PG-13

Adam Sandler's film career is somewhat of a dichotomy. On one hand he's based it on low-brow (albeit high-grossing) comedies like “Happy Gilmore,” “Billy Madison,” “The Waterboy,” et al. But he's also done some fine dramatic work. He first showed this talent in Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliant “Punch Drunk Love.” And there's “Anger Management” and the recent “Funny People.”

With his latest film, he stars and serves as co-writer, producer and songwriter of one tune on the soundtrack.

“Grown Ups” straddles Sandler's two modes of operation. A lot of the film is mildly raunchy comedy but Sandler's -and most of his fellow actors'- characters have their “serious” sides.

Those actors -David Spade, Rob Schneider, Kevin James and Chris Rock- are all well known for their comedy and are box office friendly.

Throw in the women playing the wives -Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello and Joyce Van Patten- and you've got a decent ensemble cast.

But “Grown Ups” is a case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts.  

While there is a basic backstory which borrows heavily from “The Big Chill” which borrowed heavily from “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” the film comes across as a series of comedy skits stitched together rather haphazardly mixed with touchy feely dramatic scenes.

Some of the cast, most notably Mr. Rock and Ms. Hayek, is woefully underused. Some of the characters, those played by Spade and Schneider, are too over the top to be taken seriously.

The story begins in 1978 at a junior high school championship basketball game. Five young boys and a coach nicknamed “The Buzzer” win the first (and as we learn, last) championship the coach ever won in his long career.

 Jump ahead 30 years when one by one the five guys on the team get the bad news: Coach has passed away. They decide to get together for the 4th of July weekend and attend Coach Buzzer's funeral. They rent the enormous lakeside house where their victory celebration was held three decades prior and start getting their families ready to go.

Lenny (Sandler) is a high profile Hollwood agent,  married to a woman (Hayek) who is a famous fashion designer. They have three spoiled brats. Eric's (James) wife (Bello) still breast feeds their “48 month old boy.” Kurt (Rock) is a stay at home dad married to a demanding pregnant again wife (Rudolph) and must bear a domineering mother-in-law. Rob (Schneider) is a new age doofus who is in marital bliss with a woman 30 years his senior (Van Patten) and Marcus (Spade) is a Lothario suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome.

When the gang gets together at the lake house (it's a cool place, possibly the best thing about the movie)  the “Big Chill” influence really kicks in. Fittingly, because these guys are really “big chil-dren.”

There's a lot of nostalgia about the winning season and the coach. All the while the men are dealing with their family problems. The kids would rather sit inside playing video games than get out and enjoy the lake or a game of basketball. Lenny's wife is anxious to leave (the next morning, with the whole family) for her fashion show in Italy.
Rob and his wife are mostly interested in having sex. Loudly.

Kurt is trying to keep his two kids, his alpha dog pregnant wife and mother-in-law, happy. Rock is really playing against type here. Eric seems to be in sort of a daze and Marcus is only interested in finding some women.

I'll grant that there are some well timed moments of funny dialog and I laughed out loud more than a few times.

Those moments were interspersed with typical (and not really funny any more) scenes of adolescent humor including: the mother-in-law passing gas (and blaming it on the dog), squirting breast milk (no nudity), five men simultaneously urinating in a swimming pool equipped with a chemical that turns urine blue, mean spirited “fat” jokes, mean spirited “old” jokes, mean spirited “ugly” jokes and scenes that make it appear Marcus is hitting on two of Rob's voluptuous daughters.  (They are of legal age, from a previous marriage.)

There are some good laughs, the large ensemble cast is filled with familiar actors and the lake house is a beautiful sight to behold. But in the end “Grown Ups” is to “The Big Chill” what “Porky's” is to “American Graffiti.” A cheap, sometimes vulgar, lower class imitation.

Adolescent boys will LOVE it. The ones in the audience when I saw it thought it was great.
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