Silver Screen: Grown Ups *
The last time Saturday Night Live was consistently funny was way back in the early 1990s, when the show featured a cast that would go on to dominate the comedy world on stage and screen for the next two decades: future movie stars Adam Sandler and Mike Myers, the tag team of David Spade and the late Chris Farley, standup god Chris Rock, and even future U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who's now working with the zaniest troupe of them all. Even secondary players like Rob Schneider and Tim Meadows managed to land movies of their own. So despite the banal premise, Grown Ups did hold some promise, if only for the reunion of stars Sandler, Spade, Rock, and Schneider, along with fellow SNLers Meadows, Maya Rudolph, and Colin Quinn. The result, unfortunately, is not the ensemble brilliance of grunge-era Saturday Night Live sketches like "Magic Fish Town Hall," but scattershot, lowbrow family pap that's unsuitable for a significant portion of the family. When unconvincingly low-key Hollywood super-agent Lenny (Sandler) finds out that his beloved grade-school basketball coach (Blake Clark) has died, he books a flight to the funeral and a nearby lakefront cottage where he and his old teammates can reunite for a long holiday weekend, families in tow. Each man arrives with a pre-fab conflict and one-dimensional personality. Kurt (Rock) is a house husband whose career-woman wife (Rudolph) and her flatulent mother don't respect him. Eric (Kevin James, odd man out in the starring cast) is a middle-class schlub whose eagerness to look successful masks his crumbling financial situation. Marcus (Spade) is a womanizing boozer who can't grow up. Rob (Schneider) is a new-age geriophile with a too-placid demeanor who can't actualize himself, which has distanced him from his three younger daughters. Despite an overwhelming number of what sounds like plotlines, Grown Ups is painfully light on plot. As evinced by an uneventful water-park sequence that still manages to eat up fifteen minutes of running time, it's mostly just some dudes hanging out, all leading up to a climactic basketball rematch with the boys' old foes (including Quinn, Meadows, and a too-game Steve Buscemi) that not even the principle actors are able to take seriously. The culprit seems to be this multiplicity of side stories, which crowd out any possibility of a significant arc for the movie. Director Dennis Dugan provides a visual metaphor for Grown Ups' overfilled plate in seemingly every reaction shot, which clusters as many of the nearly two-dozen supporting players into each frame as possible; if the camera were to pull back a few feet, viewers would see a group of relative strangers clustered improbably together in easily filmable groups of six or eight. The whole production has the slipshod feel of a Disney movie on its third sequel, with its broad characters and broader comedy-- Kevin James falling down a hill and being too fat to waterski, granny farting, hyperbolically grotesque bunions, a dog with no vocal chords, generally falling down-- yet it's defiantly too vulgar for kids young enough to bite on the fall-down-go-boom yuks. Maria Bello's breastfeeding four-year-old is creepy enough to this David Lynch fan, and the inevitable Farrelly-esque fountain of breastmilk adds an unnecessary exclamation point on an exclamation point. Sandler's trademark mishmash of youthful exuberance and grown-up smut is off the mark here, although that doesn't seem to bother any of the actors casually strolling through the movie-- they don't seem to be bothered with much at all.