Rob Schneider, from left, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Adam Sandler and David Spade play a wild-and-crazy gang of childhood friends in the too-predictable comedy "Grown Ups." (Columbia Pictures)
'Grown Ups" may not be the worst film Adam Sandler has ever made. The competition for that distinction is particularly fierce and the potential title-holders are many.
But "Grown Ups" is certainly the laziest, most unfocused and obviously assembled film he's made in a decade and a huge step in the wrong direction after last summer's challenging "Funny People."
It's as if Sandler looked at that film's lack of financial success and said, "OK, they don't want smart, they don't want edgy? Let's give them garbage."
If that was the idea, "Grown Ups" is a huge success. It's total garbage.
On the other hand, it would seem to be box office-safe garbage. Following in the footsteps of "Couples Retreat" -- another lazy, would-be comedy that this film too closely resembles -- "Grown Ups" finds a one-time, surefire Hollywood star bolstering his commercial credibility by bringing in a cast of longtime associates whose careers have mostly faded.
In "Couples Retreat," Vince Vaughn surrounded himself with lesser names as 40somethings in vague crises that went off on vacation together. In "Grown Ups," Sandler does the same, bringing in former headliners Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider, along with Kevin James (who, post-"Paul Blart," may actually be a bigger draw than Sandler these days).
The five play childhood friends who once formed a championship middle school basketball team (apparently there were no backups on the team; yeah, right). They are reunited at the funeral of their beloved coach.
In the way of Hollywood, each friend has his large quirks. Sandler is Lenny, a wealthy Hollywood agent with a knockout fashion designer wife (Salma Hayek) and two video game-addicted boys.
James plays Eric, whose wife Sally (Maria Bello -- what is she doing here?) is still breast-feeding their 4-year-old (cue the breast milk jokes). Rock is a house-husband who is consistently harassed by his mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann). Cue the mother-in-law jokes.
Schneider plays Rob (what a stretch), married to the much-older Gloria (Joyce Van Patten). You got it -- cue the old woman jokes. And Spade is Marcus, the lone single guy, your basic aging playboy party dude. Cue the aging playboy party dude jokes.
The big problem here is none of these jokes are all that funny, and most of them fall flat as the families retreat for a weekend together at a fabulous lakeside vacation house.
This is one of those movies where one character says something and then the rest of the cast laughs aloud. Then the next character says something and everybody laughs at that. Then the next character steps up. There's no real interaction, just players taking their turn at bat.
The premise is the plot. Nothing really develops once the families converge on the vacation home past your standard superficial soul-searching, some wild-and-crazy guy antics from the assembled boys-to-men and an ultra-trite basketball showdown between our heroes and some old foes.
It's not all awful -- Spade actually gets off a few decent one-liners -- but it mostly is, and it's no wonder. The screenplay by Sandler and "Saturday Night Live" veteran Fred Wolf is nothing but a bare-bones excuse for skits, and director Dennis Dugan, a longtime Sandler fave, seems to think fake fun onscreen means real fun for the audience.
It doesn't. Then again, maybe Sandler's right and this calculated swill will sell and his career will be resurrected by again diving for lowest common denominator humor.
At the end of this film, a fat old woman falls face-first into a cake. And that's about as good as "Grown Ups" gets.