Adam Sandler's been a movie star for a long time now, so even viewers who are allergic to his charms have been pretty well immunized against his brand of 12-year-old-boy-in-a-dumpy-man's-body humor. But there's still one thing that can chill the Sandler-averse to the marrow: the scene where the jejune hostility drops away so the movie can deliver a lesson about how to be a cool dad.
Please, not that! Show us David Spade's naked backside again instead!
By the current standards of the jock-shock comedy, there's not a lot of male nudity in Grown Ups, which is star and co-writer Sandler's latest attempt to portray himself as something resembling an adult. Directed by longtime Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan, the movie mostly sticks to the bad-boy classics: pratfalls, flatulence, sexual humiliation, public urination and nonstop insults.
Indeed, despite occasional attempts at plot and character, this is basically a roast with scenery: Sandler trades smirky, self-amused put-downs with co-stars Spade, Rob Schneider, Chris Rock and Kevin James. (Of these five, all but James joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1990.)
The comedians play characters who would seem to have nothing in common: Hollywood agent Lenny (Sandler), househusband Kurt (Rock), new-age loon Rob (Schneider), car detailer Eric (James) and professional partier Marcus (Spade). But it turns out that back in 1978, when they were 12, they all played on the only championship basketball team ever coached by the man they called "The Buzzer."
(How gosh-darn cute is Grown Ups? We learn the coach has died when Lenny's kindergarten-age daughter crashes the family car while using its navigation system to search for the Buzzer's new home: heaven.)
The coach's demise reunites his '78 stars, who follow the funeral with a getaway at the lakeside cabin where they once toasted their victory. They bring their wives and kids, as well as a dog that can't bark straight and Kurt's fat, nasty mother-in-law.
Erotic queasiness spreads like Legionnaire's disease. Rob's latest wife is a sexually aggressive older (much older) woman; Eric's spouse regularly opens her top to breast-feed their 4-year-old son; Kurt is emasculated by his stay-at-home status and his wife's third pregnancy. And everyone expects Marcus to seduce one or both of Eric's sexy, scantily clad daughters.
The main act, of course, involves Lenny and his family. The agent worries that his two sons have become pampered, tech-addled brats who don't appreciate the traditional joys of childhood. Not so Lenny's wife, Roxanne (Salma Hayek), a top fashion designer who's in a hurry to leave the cabin for a trip to Milan. Sandler the auteur clearly thinks that what these fractious folk need is some time to appreciate rope swings, water slides and skipping stones across the lake.
Balancing this Norman Rockwell vision with the meaner aspects of Sandler's humor might have been difficult, had the creative team bothered to try, but Grown Ups doesn't. It just dumps all the ingredients into the cinema blender -- and then has the chutzpah to flip the dial from "puree" to "sports flick" in the final minutes. The anticlimactic climax -- a basketball rematch -- ends with another cool-dad lesson, revealing Lenny/Sandler's essential benevolence. It's a moment that doesn't compare all that well to a shot of David Spade's naked backside.