Grown Ups

I wonder at what age Adam Sandler will stop playing the same character we’ve seen for the last fifteen years.  While I’m not an anti-Sandler, I simply feel this disconnect with him these days, as if somehow his formula train has passed within the last few years and nobody told him.  Yet, Grown Ups proved to be one of his biggest box-office performers, which is shocking considering it’s his laziest film in a long time.  At 44 years old, the man knows his fan base, and they continue to support him making junk like this.  But watch them turn and abandon him when he dares to act in more ambitious projects that may not totally work (Spanglish, Funny People), but showcase him stepping out of his bubble.

Grown Ups could be the worst film of Sandler’s career.  The pitch is to throw a group of has-been comedians past their prime in a single frame to see what sticks.  In this experiment we have Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Kevin James.  If three of these five can’t sell tickets on their own, let’s throw all of them together.  The studio made a smart move, as the writers need not provide any material, only to watch the dollars pour in.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve hated some of Sandler’s other efforts more than this (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan), but Grown Ups surely tested my endurance for quick-buck filmmaking with a Couples Retreat or Ocean’s Twelve approach of throwing a group of name-actors together and producing a film about them simply hanging out.

In Grown Ups, Sandler has the lead role, the wealthiest and most successful of the bunch, married to a Latin fashion designer played by Salma Hayek.  This of course fits in with all of Sandler’s other films—as his scuzzy, sarcastic and self-absorbed characters have a tag-along wife suited for a Miss America contest.  He’s been significant other to (on film) the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Marisa Tomei, Courteney Cox-Arquette, Drew Barrymore, Winona Ryder, and Bridgette Wilson among others.  And also in all or at least most of these films, the writing must address why this gorgeous woman would be attracted to Sandler’s character.  I’ve always found this footnote of Sandler’s work to be more entertaining than the work itself.

Nonetheless, I need to return to the plot.  Sandler and his family of luxury head off to the funeral of an elementary school basketball coach from Sandler’s youth.  Back in good ol’ 1978, this coach led Sandler, James, Rock, Schneider and Spade to a major championship victory game (a game won on a bad call by the ref).  All the boys reunite for this event.  Sandler delivers a eulogy (as if this coach has zero family present whatsoever), while Schneider performs an outlandish opera piece that is inevitably mocked by his buddy listeners.

Following the funeral, the boys and their families head off to a cabin for the weekend.  Sandler thinks his two snotty brat sons could use some time away from maid-service and M-rated videogames.  Kevin James and his wife, played by Maria Bello (has she really been reduced to this?), are having intimacy problems.  She also still breast-feeds her ’48-month-old’ son.  Chris Rock is husband to his working wife, while he stays home to cook and manage the house.  He also puts up with his live-in mother-in-law who believes him to be wasted space.  Rob Schneider wears a ridiculous hair-piece and makes out with his wife in public (she also happens to be in her 70’s).  That leaves us with David Spade, a loner womanizer who becomes entranced by 2 of Schneider’s 3 daughters that join the group at the cabin (supermodel-looking 20-year-olds, mind you).

The quirks of each character as described above spell out the ongoing ‘jokes’ that proceed through 105 minutes of spellbinding stupidity.  Bello breast feeds her 4-year-old while the guys look on in amazement.  The old mother-in-law displays a nasty bunyon on her foot.  Schneider gets frisky with his old lady in-camera.  James takes and makes cracks about his weight.  Spade lays around naked.  Rock takes condescending insults from his wife.  The five middle-aged guys urinate in a public pool that turns the water navy blue.  And throughout most of the film, the five main actors dish out sarcasm to each other, as if someone forgot to bring the script to the set that day.  All of this adds up to these people learning a lesson about making time for and respecting one another.  How cute.

If I experienced one or two chuckles in this thing, they really have to be considered negligable in regard to the film’s complete laziness.  I will openly warrant several Sandler vehicles a pass, including: 50 First Dates, Anger Management, The Longest Yard, Click, The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy and probably more.  He’s a comic in his own league refusing to grow up.  That’s all fine and good, but don’t try to sell me a complete waste of time like Grown Ups.

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Rating: 3.8/5 (4 votes cast)

Death at a Funeral (2010)

I sat through Neil LaBute’s attempt at reincarnating the British farce “Death at a Funeral” (which I hadn’t seen prior), and I can only imagine that fans of the original film are either outraged or easy to dismiss the Americanized version that has been tailored to fit the Tyler Perry crowd.  Overall, I have little to say about the movie.  It has a major ensemble cast, and not any one of the actors (including: Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Zoe Saldana, Tracy Morgan, and James Mardsen) had a genuine moment in the entire film, and perhaps that is why about five minutes after it was over, it is hard to revisit any of the movie’s events.

The story centers on Chris Rock’s character, Aaron, preparing for the funeral of his father at his own home.  His entire family will be reunited for the ceremony, and Aaron is nervous about his prepared eulogy, as everyone expects his younger brother (Martin Lawrence) Ryan, the professional author, to do the honor.  The plot kicks into motion due to Zoe Saldana’s boyfriend character, Oscar (James Mardsen) , mistaking a cocaine/acid pill for Valium which causes him to hallucinate and make a scene throughout the afternoon, which includes him opening the father’s casket during the ceremony, and tipping it over—spilling his body onto the floor.  Eventually, Aaron finds more trouble in the form of Frank (Peter Dinklage, of the 2007 version as well), a dwarf on a mission to expose a shocking secret about Aaron’s father unless he receives a hefty payment.  Other chaotic events surround and multiply, putting Aaron at the center, including Ryan’s inability to pay his share of the funeral costs.  All the right elements for a great stage play farce are here, but the movie simply can’t deliver.

Perhaps I’m not exactly fond of any of the comedic talents here, but that shouldn’t matter.  Even if I’ve never found Rock, Lawrence, or Morgan to be all that hilarious, the movie should be about the farce, and the chaos of events that take place.  But I never found myself included in the mayhem.  I observed one-note characters and a handful of big-name actors going through the paces of tired situational comedy, and I didn’t buy any of it—especially once the final eulogy is delivered, the scene couldn’t be more forced and awkward.  Not one plot turn or gag had enough shock, surprise, or wit to fuel my interest, and so this remake left me feeling decidedly blah and unmoved to the core.

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Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes cast)