Shockingly inept even by the standards we've come to expect from a Happy Madison production, "Grown Ups" feels as if it were made without considering whether an audience would ever actually see it.
It assaults us with an awkward mix of humor (which is rarely funny) and heart (which is never touching), but even more amateurishly, it features copious cutaways to characters laughing at each others' jokes. For long stretches of time, Adam Sandler and Co. sit around a New England lake house goofing on each other, telling stories and reminiscing about old times. Given that these other characters are played by Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider, you would hope that some of the lines would work (from James and Rock, at least).
One gets the distinct impression that these guys, four out of five of whom are "Saturday Night Live" alumni, improvised most of their insults and one-liners, and there just happened to be a camera or two rolling. (Sandler and Fred Wolf are credited with having written the script.) But then Dennis Dugan, director of such ignominious Sandler films as "Happy Gilmore," ''You Don't Mess With the Zohan" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry," incessantly cuts between them admiring each others' zingers.
This is not just alienating. It's downright uncomfortable.
The plot, which is essentially "The Big Chill" with jokes about flatulence and bunions, finds five childhood friends reuniting for the funeral of the basketball coach who led them to a championship in 1978.
Lenny (Sandler) is now a big Hollywood agent who's married to a fashion designer (Salma Hayek Pinault) with whom he has obnoxious, spoiled kids. Eric (James) is also married with kids; his wife (Maria Bello) still breast-feeds their 4-year-old son, which is played for the kind of gross-out laughs you would expect. Kurt (Rock) is the sensitive househusband, married to a workaholic (Maya Rudolph), with two kids and a stereotypically nitpicky mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann) who's like a caricature of a Tyler Perry character.
Then there's Marcus (Spade), who's single and constantly on the prowl for ladies, and Rob (Schneider), a New-Agey vegan married to a woman old enough to be his mother (Joyce Van Patten).
They all get together for a long weekend where not much happens, aside from pratfalls in the woods, plenty of public urination, and an eventual moment of confession which is nothing short of cringeworthy. Halfway through, Hayek's character blows off her own fashion show in Milan, supposedly because she feels so compelled to stay and take part in the bonding. The payoff: She gets to watch her husband and his buddies in a rematch against the guys they played more than 30 years ago, even though everyone is now middle-aged and out of shape.
This scene, by the way, provides the only truly funny moment in the whole film, as Rock and Tim Meadows confront each other on the court. Then again, Meadows' arrival is yet another reminder of the depressing waste of talent here. Rock is woefully underused. Rudolph is sadly one-note. There's also a bizarre cameo involving Steve Buscemi in a full-body cast.
It's enough to make you wonder whether watching all these people having dinner — without the guise of making a movie with actual characters and a plot — might have been more enjoyable.
"Grown Ups," a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity. Running time: 98 minutes. One star out of four.