Somewhere along the way Adam Sandler grew beyond guilty pleasure and became one of the very few actors making movies we parents can trust to deliver relatively harmless PG-13 family comedies. Sure, there’s always a few below the belt gags and the obligatory sexual innuendos, but for the most part the actor formerly known as ‘Opera Man’ and ‘Canteen Boy’ is now delivering consistently heartwarming performances as a loveable lug.
Grown Ups casts not just Sandler in a loveable lug light, but Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and the always amusing non-lug Rob Schneider, a group of middle-aged men who bonded as pre-teens by winning a championship basketball game at the buzzer, much to the delight of their inspirational and paternal coach (Blake Clark). When ‘Coach Buzzer’ dies, the gang gets back together at the funeral (here’s where we meet their wives) and they all agree to spend the weekend together at the same lake house they celebrated their big win so many years ago to honor their fallen leader and ceremoniously spread his ashes (this happens alongside a bucket of KFC, pretty funny scene).
Sandler’s ‘Lenny Feder’ is a top Hollywood agent, complete with super hot fashionista wife (Salma Hayek), two Voss water drinking sons (Jake Goldberg & Cameron Boyce), and one dang adorable little girl (Alexys Nycole Sanchez), who only leave the pearly gates of Bel Air for the mean streets of Milan or Paris and suddenly find themselves roughing it with commoners. This dynamic makes for some great moments, like when the oldest son violently spits out the hot chocolate his nanny brings him and chortles “What’re you trying to do, poison us? This isn’t Godiva!” When ‘Lenny’ tries to get his boys off of their violent Playstation game of slaughtering cruise ship guests and turn them on to the vintage board game ‘Chutes & Ladders’ his son replies, “What happens, the winner gets a training bra?”
Chris Rock’s dilemma is that of a house husband, repeatedly emasculated not only by his wife (Maya Rudolph) but his rambunctious mother-in-law (Ebony Jo-Ann), who belittles him at every opportunity; Kevin James is a whipped mid-level salesman who loves his wife (Maria Bello), but suffers the humiliation of having a four-year-old son still nursing in public; David Spade is the bachelor of the group, drinking and cracking wise in true Spadian form; and Rob Schneider’s emotionally scarred from two divorces and turned to new age living with a feisty older woman (Joyce Van Patten), the divorces resulting in three grown daughters – although his daughters have to be seen to be believed. ‘Lenny’ refers to him as ‘Captain Caring of the S.S Melodrama.’
It all adds up to a lot of fun shenanigans at the cabin where Sandler and his boys wrestle their children away from their electronic devices and pampered routines to go skipping stones and rope swinging, enjoying simple old-fashioned wonders like string telephones and getting “wasted” on ice cream and pizza.
It’s a sweet film that aims to remind us all about the magic of family togetherness, putting career advances and competitive jockeying behind things like believing in the tooth fairy and learning how to lose as well as win.
Director Dennis Dugan handles this genre better than almost any filmmaker in the biz and there are plenty of likeable performances here (James in particular), but as usual it is Sandler who shines most. Aside from the forgettable low brow You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, the ill-advised remake of The Longest Yard, the noble but bleak Reign Over Me, and the absurd I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, the actor has surprisingly strung together a rather impressive resume of solid, thoughtful performances over the past decade (Punch Drunk Love, The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates, Spanglish, Click, Bedtime Stories, Funny People). His films usually strive to reduce life back to the simple things that matter most. Sandler notoriously surrounds himself with his friends in his pictures – for better or for worse – but it is apparent that friendship and loyalty are a calling card and that’s a unique quality in a star of his magnitude.
Adam Sandler is now on my extremely short list of actors I will pay to see.