‘Grown Ups’: Sublimations and stereotypes

On Fourth of July weekend, five childhood friends attend a funeral. Oh wait, that doesn’t sound like much fun. And it sounds a little too much like that last Chris Rock movie. Let’s start again.

On Fourth of July weekend, five childhood friends reunite to remember the advice of their beloved middle school basketball coach, that they “play the game of life the same way” they played their big championship victory. That way, he urged them back in 1978, “when the final buzzer of life goes off, you’ll have no regrets.”

Actually, this isn’t much fun either. Now titular Grown Ups, the boys have lots of regrets. Wealthy Hollywood agent Lenny (Adam Sandler) can’t convince his videogame-thumbing sons to play Chutes and Ladders instead. When they want treats, they take a lesson from their dad and text their nanny, the painfully submissive Rita (Di Quon). And when the hot chocolate they’ve demanded isn’t Godiva, one of these mini-Lennys suggests she’s trying to poison him. Ah, humanity!

But Lenny has a plan — which is more than can be said for his movie. He schemes to get his kids (he has an adorable big-eyed daughter in addition to the two boys), his perpetually high-heeled fashion designer wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek), and Rita to journey from LA to the funeral (in “New England”) and then a gargantuan lake house for the holiday weekend, in order that everyone might remember coach’s words — even though he’s the only one of the bunch who heard and ignored them. Thus Lenny sets the slow-speed objective here: coach’s disciples must regain their lost bearings.

Completely predictably, Lenny’s teammates are even more lost than he is — that is, they’re not rich. And don’t you know that as they gather and reminisce, they measure one another crudely and repeatedly. Sandler and company’s “relaxed” style here reaches a kind of nadir, as the friends don’t even appear to have a script, more like an agreement to sit around and make fun of each other — slowly. And so, each boy has become a pathetic man, all their failures reduced to sight gags.

Elvis-wig-wearing Rob (Rob Schneider) has two failed marriages and three estranged daughters, and currently dotes on his much older wife Gloria (Joyce Van Patten). Marcus (David Spade) is a catty, womanizing drunk, not funny for even a minute. Eric (Kevin James) can’t quite manage the needs of his wife Sally (Maria Bello), who’s still nursing her four-year-old son (“We don’t like to say no!”). As Eric lowers his eyes in embarrassment, she breaks out the nipple in any public circumstance. Yes, he’s a failure because his wife is en route to creating a psychopath.

At least Eric recognizes something’s wrong (and sublimates by eating hidden candy bars). Kurt (Chris Rock) wears an apron and makes pumpkin risotto, then complains that his children and his high-powered executive wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph) don’t appreciate him. His live-in mother-in-law — Mama Ronzoni (Ebony Jo-Ann) — piles on, because no black family in a movie is complete without a flatulent, grumpy matriarch. It’s hard to sort out why Kurt is so miserable or even why he’s in this movie, as he barely says a word during all his white-boy buddies’ cavorting.

Near film’s end, when they engage in the inevitable basketball rematch with the boys-now-fry-cooks-and-bullies they beat back in 1978, Kurt reunites with the other black guy in the movie, Malcolm (Tim Meadows). They’ve got feeble jokes their blackness amid the sea of white. “These are my white people,” Kurt says, “Go get your own white people.” Why either of them wants these white people is a question the movie cannot contemplate, let alone answer. Still, this brief meta-moment — in which the film appears to recognize itself as a string of unpleasant jokes and tired stereotypes — does raise another question. If they know what they’re doing, why are they doing it?

It might be that, in the mode of the Rat Pack’s adventures, Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell, or more recently, George Clooney’s European getaways, the idea was to spend studio money and hang out with friends. In “New England.” But that raises yet another question: why would any woman in this mess sign on?

As the men drink beer, pee in the lake/pool, and drink more beer, their wives (and, in the case of Rob’s girls) occasion booby jokes. Sally’s an obvious target, as she’s drawing attention to her breasts (and her squirty milk) repeatedly. Deanne, who is pregnant, comes in for one or two remarks, mostly at the expense of Kurt’s girliness. Of course, Roxanne not only has to learn to be a better wife (more attentive, less demanding), but also to fit herself into one slinky super-designer outfit after another. And it goes without saying that Mama Ronzoni — and her bunion — comes in for endless jabbing.

But none of them has to undergo quite the abuse that Gloria must. Even though she gets a quick speech at movie’s end about how abusive the boys have been, and so scold them like the mother figure she’s supposed to be, for the most part, she’s Rob’s repulsive love object. This means that she’s viewed from the buddies’ perspective, frequently in slow motion, and a couple of times accompanied by the song “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” so that her tongue, her flabby body, and her squeals of sexual delight are turned abject and frightening. Boys, please grow up.

RATING 1 / 10
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