[Screen It]

(2010) (Adam Sandler, Kevin James) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Various men, who played together on a championship basketball team as preadolescents, reunite three decades later and spend time at a lake cabin with their spouses and kids.
Three decades after winning a basketball championship as preadolescents, a group of men and their families reunite following the death of their beloved coach. There's Hollywood agent Lenny Feder (ADAM SANDLER) who's married to fashion designer Roxanne (SALMA HAYEK) and is concerned that their kids have become spoiled, what with having nanny Rita (DI QUON) at their beck and text call. While hard partier Marcus Higgins (DAVID SPADE) hasn't really grown up, Eric Lamonsoff (KEVIN JAMES) has settled down with Sally (MARIA BELLO) who still breastfeeds their 4-year-old son.

Kurt McKenzie (CHRIS ROCK) is also a family man and stay-at-home dad, but must contend with being henpecked by his pregnant wife, Deanne (MAYA RUDOLPH), and her mother, Mama Ronzoni (EBONY JO-ANN). Overly dramatic Rob Hilliard (ROB SCHNEIDER), meanwhile, barely sees his young adult kids -- the gorgeous Jasmine (MADISON RILEY) & Amber (JAMIE CHUNG) and the more homely Bridget (ASHLEY LOREN) -- and instead spends time with his much older wife, Gloria (JOYCE VAN PATTEN).

Following the funeral, the various men and their families head off to spend time together at a lake cabin. There, they must not only contend with various marital and familial issues, but also a group of men, including Dickie (COLIN QUINN), Wiley (STEVE BUSCEMI) and Malcolm (TIM MEADOWS), who have not forgotten losing the championship basketball game to them so long ago and want a rematch.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Some of the best comedians now and in the past are those who specialize in improv comedy. You know, the kind where they perform in front of a live audience and take any number of viewer suggested elements thrown their way and turn them into hilarious bits. It's an often exhilarating thing to witness, as comedy is created on the fly in something akin to a high-wire act without a safety net.

Scripted comedy is an entirely different yet obviously related beast. While the improv comedian flies by the seat of his or her pants, performers who work from a script -- be that in front of live audiences or in filmed TV shows or movies -- often agonizingly labor over every word, the order in which they appear, the timing and much more, trying to get everything just right.

Whereas stage works can't be changed without the playwright's consent, those creating TV programming and films can and often do change things as they proceed through filming, and that's especially true when trained comedians appear in front of the camera. Hollywood lore is filled with accounts of such performers (especially the likes of Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and so on) taking their material and running with it, much to the horror of those who wrote the original script and the terror and/or delight of the director who's trying to keep things in line, under budget, and on time.

While watching "Grown Ups," the latest comedy from Adam Sandler's production arm, one can't help but sense that a vast majority of the material has been ad-libbed, especially when the various characters do playful and friendly, but also caustic and/or sarcastic digs and put-downs on each other. Essentially operating without a plot -- Sandler is listed as the screenwriter, along with Fred Wolf, but it's hard to tell how much if any of the original script made it onto the screen -- the film might entertain or at least appease fans of the stars.

For everyone else, and especially those who like their comedy smart and creative (yes, even silly, dumb and/or juvenile fare can possess those qualifiers) and hate faux profundity and artificial and tacked-on sentimentality, this latest Happy Madison production will feel like dull nails down the proverbial chalkboard.

And that's because director Dennis Dugan has delivered a lazy and easy comedy, relying on a large number of running gags and related crude humor to elicit laughs rather than actually trying to be creative. In short, it feels like the assembled comedians simply got together, came up with an idea for a skit, and then proceeded to improvise their bits (dialogue, slapstick material, etc.) as they went along.

The plot is certainly simple. A quintet of former basketball teammates -- Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider -- reassemble for their former coach's funeral and then spend several days at a cabin up in the woods. There, they continue their playful put downs, ogle various shapely young things, contend with martial and familial issues and generally just screw around because the plot gives them nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Sure, there's a trip to the local water park, while a number of locals -- Colin Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows and others -- want a rematch of the championship basketball game from back when they were all 12-years-old. That's joined by their children finally learning how to be real kids -- at least the kind who play outdoors and with old-fashioned board games -- while the adults come to various realizations of their own.

That might sound deep and/or profound to some degree -- okay, it doesn't, but I'm trying to be polite and go with the old benefit of the doubt -- but such touchy-feely moments feel completely fabricated and shoehorned into the proceedings, and thus have zero engagement factor to them. One would hope that maybe it's all just a riff on the Judd Apatow comedy recipe of mixing raunch, man-child characters and warmth. I seriously doubt that's the intention here, but even if by accident, it also fails on that level.

I'll admit that various members of our advance screening audience howled with laughter on more than one occasion, but I don't think any reviewers joined them. Maybe those who participated are big fans of the comedians and/or this style of juvenile comedy (they even laughed at the adults peeing in the pool joke despite the commercials having already shown that about a gazillion times).

Then again, maybe they're so used to hearing laugh tracks on TV sitcoms that they felt obligated to create their own just to make themselves and everyone else feel comfortable in familiar comedy surroundings. Whatever the case, there were those who laughed and those who didn't, all of which left me pondering if the former were given or subjected to something beforehand to help loosen up their better judgment.

Or maybe I just don't see the humor in repeated gags about a woman (poor Maria Bello) still breastfeeding her 4-year-old son (with accompanying gags including some projectile lactation squirting onto Maya Rudolph) or a stereotypical and gassy black mother-in-law constantly bashing her son-in-law while getting her own verbal toe-ment -- I'm sorry, torment -- about her enlarged and bad-looking toe.

There's also a dog whose vocal cords have been clipped resulting in a muffled bark, and both short and old person jokes about Rob Schneider and Joyce Van Patten playing a May-December couple. There's also the joke that he somehow managed to produce a number of comely, shapely and barely attired young daughters for the males to ogle (even Rupert Holmes "Escape" -- "If you like pina coladas..." -- plays several times during such moments in the belief that if once is funny or even just mildly amusing, then two and three occurrences must be better).

While dumb and juvenile comedy is certainly an acquired taste (at least for those who manage to grow up from the age group that most commonly adores such material), there are varying levels of that. I'll take the sort offered by the likes of Apatow, the Farrelly Brothers and especially the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello and other such legends over Sandler and his band of cronies who think they're funny and somehow have inexplicably been handsomely rewarded for fooling viewers into believing they are as well. Arguably the laziest and lamest comedy to come down the pike in some time, "Grown Ups" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed June 22, 2010 / Posted June 25, 2010

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