Whoever said the road to hell is paved with good intentions probably got an early look at “Grown Ups.” The new Adam Sandler comedy has all the charm of a home movie that does not star your own family, which means it’s overly sentimental, filled with you-had-to-be-there moments, bad jokes and even worse camera angles. It’s also far too long and an excellent reminder of why most of us spare our friends this sort of share.
Written by Sandler and Fred Wolf, who cut his teeth at “Saturday Night Live” in the ‘90s, and directed by frequent Sandler partner in crime Dennis Dugan (“I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” most recently), the film is clearly a case of a comic on a nostalgia binge, pining for a simpler place and time. And he’s taken his best funny buddies — Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider — along for the ride.
The script is very little story, very long joke list, which makes for very rough going on the pacing and delivery front since this is allegedly a film, not open-mike night at the Improv. The plot trying to make room for all those one-liners is a universal one: small town boys grow up together, then grow apart and into very different grown-up lives, only to be brought back together years later so they can rediscover what they remember as the greatest moment in their lives.
In this case it’s a basketball championship and the death of the beloved basketball coach who led this once gangly crew to a noble victory. In their grown-up versions, Sandler has cast himself as a top Hollywood agent and by far the most successful, which I guess is the case. James is technically a lawn furniture salesman, but his primary role is to be the punch line for an endless litany of fat jokes even though he looks to be at his lightest in years; Rock is a stay-at-home dad with a fussy Food Channel jones; and Spade is the drunk, single man forever on the make.
The surprise of the movie, and there aren’t many, is Schneider. He plays completely against type as a New Age philosopher-massage therapist in a May-December relationship where he’s May and the most sensitive, restrained one of the bunch with nary a cutting remark. Except for the very bad toupee, the whole renaissance man thing is a good look on Schneider, though it also means he bears the brunt of the good humor boys. (I should note that in another test of the “suspension of disbelief” principle, Salma Hayek is cast as Sandler’s wife.)
The film is a very wistful one with Sandler’s Lenny Feder worried that his kids are so far removed from the real world — with the texting and the Wii-ing and the nanny seeing to all their needs — that they don’t even know how to skip a stone. He wants to re-create for them the sort of childhood he remembers and the coach’s death makes that possible.
A lake house where the team celebrated that championship season 20 years ago is rented for the funeral weekend and the boys to men come back with their wives, kids and a lot of emotional baggage in tow. That baggage is mostly laid out in jokes that accompany the barbecues, canoeing, marshmallow roasts, rope swinging, deck-chair sitting, water-park sliding that passes for action here. Though some of the humor is a bit off-color (the pool turns blue when anyone pees in it and someone does, a lot), it all seems mild; a throwback in an era ruled by raunchy comedy. Even the fart joke (or at least one of them) is delivered by the old cup-and-string phone method.
Since the coach had a great sense of timing, his passing brings them back home for July 4. But most of the fireworks come in the form of the rival team, which still holds a grudge and turns up in all the local haunts demanding a rematch. Meanwhile there’s a lot of catching up to do. What can I say, thanks for the memories?