Thursday, July 1, 2010


“Happy Gilmore” director Dennis Duggan’s new ensemble feel-good comedy, “Grown Ups” (*** out of ****) is an Adam Sandler movie for people who hate Adam Sandler movies. The two times that I saw this comedy, the audience was made up people who were older than the characters in the movie. This entertaining, character-driven, middle-of-the-road reunion movie resembles “The Big Chill” minus its drama and recalls the Robin Williams comedy “The Best of Times” about old high school rivals looking for a game rematch. Chris Rock, Kevin James, Rob Schneider, and David Spade co-star as Sandler’s closest friends and boyhood pals, while Mexican beauty Salma Hayek plays his wife. Maria Bello, Joyce Van Pattern and Steve Buscemi round out this exemplary cast. The gross-out gags of earlier Sandler movies have given way here to family values, but the insults and putdowns are still hilarious.

Sandler has come a long way since he appeared in “Billy Madison” back in 1995. Typically, the former “Saturday Night Live” comedian plays either wise acres who flout responsibility to indulge themselves in the lap of luxury or underdogs. Usually, Sandler’s other movies concerned challenged individuals, such as the underdogs in both “The Water Boy” and “Little Nicky.” Over the years Sandler has gradually eroded this smart aleck image, starting with “Big Daddy,” another Duggan movie, where he found himself stuck with raising a child. Nevertheless, he took a turn in his career when he made “Punch Drunk Love” and later The Longest Yard,” and even publicized his support of gay rights with “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” Indeed, Sandler has mellowed so much that he has made movies that make his “SNL” audiences want to puke, such as “Spanglish.” The comparative lightweight but amusing “Grown Ups” features a lot of affectionate wisecracking between the five stars. Sometimes they can be quite merciless with their ridicule of each other, but it is nothing like the heavyweight Judd Apatow comedy-drama “Funny People.” Whether you yearn for the earlier Sandler juvenile comedies or you prefer his rather mature epics, “Grown Ups” strikes a nice balance between the two types of Sandler films. Old school Sandler fans may abhor the fact that their hero has gone mainstream. “Grown Ups” definitely appeals to an entirely different demographic with its warm-hearted narrative about families, but even old school Sandler fans should find something redeeming about it.

Sandler plays powerful Hollywood film agent Lenny Feder who can pull the likes of a Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts off your picture. He is married to trophy wife Roxanne Chase-Feder (Salma Hayek of “Desperado”) who owns her own fashion line. They have two sons, Greg (Jake Goldberg of “The Ant Bully”) and Keithie (Cameron Boyce of “Eagle Eye”), and a daughter, Becky (Alexys Nycole Sanchez in her film debut), and a nanny Rita (Di Quon of “Pulse”), who struggles to keep up with their demands and the telephone. Greg and Keithie are hopeless snobs who spend their day on the sofa playing violent video games and texting Rita with their every wish and demand. The same weekend that the family had planned to fly off to Milan, Italy, to attend Roxanne’s fashion show, Lenny learns that his beloved basketball coach, Bobby 'Buzzer' Ferdinando (Blake Clark of “Intolerable Cruelty”), has died. Lenny and his best friends, Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock of “Lethal Weapon IV”), Marcus Higgins (David Spade of “Joe Dirt”), and Rob Hilliard (Rob Schneider of “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo”) were members of Buzzer’s only undefeated junior high basketball team. These fortysomething, middle-aged crazy best friends forever attend Buzzer’s funeral in New England and then celebrate the Fourth of July together. Lenny is called on to eulogize the basketball coach, while the hypersensitive Rob warbles his version of “Ave Maria.” Each of these characters has their foibles and flaws. For example, Rob is a vegan who has been divorced three times, wears his thinning hair in a pompadour with a hairpiece, and is married to an old hippie, Gloria (Joyce Van Patten of “Something Big”), that everybody believes is his mother. Like Rob, Eric is married to Sally (Maria Bello of “Coyote Ugly”) with two kids, Donna (Ada-nicole Sanger of “BrainSurge”) and Bean (Frank and Morgan Gingerich). Although Bean is four years old, he continues to suckle at Sally’s breasts whenever he wants milk. Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock) is a house husband whose wife Deane (Maya Rudolph of “MacGruber”) brings home the bacon to their two children and her flatulent mother-in-law Mama Ronzoni (Ebony Jo-Ann of “Kate & Leopold”). On the other hand, Marcus is an alcoholic single guy. These guys are so comfortable with each other that they can call each other derogatory names without getting upset.

Lenny spends his time trying to get his kids out of the house and into the open. Initially, Roxanne isn’t happy because they have to share a summer house on Lake Amoskeag. One day she discovers that she has forgotten how to skip a rock across a lake after she hurls it into her son’s stomach. She decides that the Feders must forego the fashion show and stick around. Lenny and company paddle off to a island where Rob spreads Buzzer’s ashes. Eventually, one of the basketball players from the 1978 championship, Dickie Bailey (Colin Quinn of “Crocodile' Dundee II”), induces them to play the game again. Lenny, who cannot miss a basket when he shoots, decides it is time for the Dickie Baileys of the world to start winning and muffs the shot.

“Grown Ups” alternates between the adults trying to get the kids out to play in the open rather than indoors with videogames and the slapstick humor that accompanies Eric. At the sight of a rope hanging for a tree by the edge of a lake, Eric tries his luck and swings out on it. Predictably, he doesn’t turn loose and swings back to smash into a tree and them plunge into the woods. One of the funniest gags in “Grown Ups” involves shooting an arrow into the sky. They call it ‘arrow roulette’ and the winner is the only guy left standing. Predictably, Rob remains standing and the arrow sinks into his foot.

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