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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grown Ups

Title: Grown Ups

Year of Release: 2010

Date Viewed: July 15th, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG-13

If I was a paid critic, recommending a movie like Grown Ups to the general viewing public would grant me large ridicule and possibly being shown the door. Luckily I'm just a regular guy so I have nothing to lose.

When you pay money to see a movie produced by Happy Madison, you should already have a general idea for what you're in for. It's not high art, that's for sure. You're most likely in for lowbrow humor, a nonsensical plot and/or an over-reliance on the improvisational skills of its stars. Grown Ups has all of that and not much else. For Happy Madison fans, that is all that's needed. Sandler and his pals never seem to lose any sleep over what critics think of their work. They only care about pleasing themselves and their fans.

Here's the movie's story. Five childhood friends all with the same mutual respect for their popular basketball coach reunite as adults after the coach unexpectedly passes away. Guilty over the long period of no communication and recognizing the impact he had on their lives, the five pay tribute at the coach's funeral then later arrange to spent a relaxing weekend together with their families at a cabin in the woods. This impromptu vacation will give all of them a chance to catch up with each other, improve their family functions and remember the spirit of having fun with life. I won't even bother to list any of the characters' names because the movie hardly even cares what they are. So why should I?

Here is the real story. Adam Sandler speed-dials his best friends and asks if they are available to help out with his new movie. Neither he nor his agents have a script lined up but they figure they can just wing something until the camera catches some funny material. I imagine the conversation probably went like this:

Kevin James: "I'm not so sure about that, Adam. There's this other project that I..."

Adam Sandler: "Salma Hayek just signed on."

Kevin James: "Count me in."

In other words, the whole thing is an excuse to get Sandler, James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider together on screen trading one liners and insults. Actually, Chris Rock was given a lot less to do than the others for some reason. But he is my favorite of the group so maybe I'm just biased. Even if you don't like this sort of material, you have to give these guys credit for not being afraid to make jokes at their own expense.

The experience of watching something like Grown Ups is like spending a weekend with five of your funniest friends. What's not to like about that? I suppose some would just prefer the real thing but most everyone doesn't go to the movies for reality.

The jokes here are very funny so long as you can appreciate "spur of the moment" humor. This is the reason Grown Ups is only worth watching once in a crowded theater. Even after only a single viewing, it was obvious that revisiting these jokes would never garner the same kind of enjoyment. It's similar to retelling a hilarious story at your next party. It was way funnier when it happened five seconds ago as opposed to five days ago.

A common misconception surrounding material that is dominantly ad-libbed is that it's the result of lazy efforts replacing "true" comedy. That may be true in some cases (I'm looking at you Couples Retreat) but I beg to differ here. Sandler and his crew are known to film several alternate takes of many scenes and only settle for the ones they like best or know will work best. Most outtake reels could last as long if not longer than their feature films. Is that lazy filmmaking? I don't think so. They could make things easier on themselves by just keeping the first thing they shoot and cashing in the paychecks faster.

As good of a time as I had watching Grown Ups, there is one missing element here that prevents it from reaching the same league as Happy Madison's more memorable works. It's missing some heart. Even when Sandler's movies were at its silliest, there was always some sort of heartfelt message or theme that could be taken from the whole ordeal. It doesn't exist here. I suppose you could say "winning isn't everything" could be the theme but it seemed too "thrown in" for me to take it remotely seriously.

The best way to approach Grown Ups is to keep your expectations low. It also helps to go in with a good mood in order to embrace its silliness. It's a fine way to spend time if a rainy day is tampering with your summer and it may even give you some ideas on how to spice up your own vacation. But whatever you do, don't try the Arrow Roulette game. You're guaranteed to lose a friend that way.

Rating: 7

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