Would you believe this is a remake of The Big Chill but with all the parts played by Adam Sandler’s famous and/or infamous friends? It isn’t, but could it have been?
The funeral of a basketball coach reunites the stars of his championship-winning middle school team, now all grown up (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider.) Whether they have gone on to predictable careers or become family men, the five former friends and teammates spend a few days at a rented cottage together (with their families) remembering what they wanted to be and lamenting the choices they’ve made in their lives. Ultimately, they discover why they become such good friends to begin with while periodically regressing back to their former juvenile behaviors.
If you believe the trailers, this movie should have been a smile-a-minute laugh-fest, like Meatballs or an old John Candy movie ending with winning some local competition against a bully family. Nearly all of those moments are used up in the trailers, because the film really isn’t merely a comedy. Drawing from the same well as 50 First Dates and more recently Funny People, Grown Ups is refreshingly introspective while actually being bogged down by the same sight gags shown in the advertising. It’s like a Happy Madison alumni reunion special except that someone filmed it, brought friends pretending to be family, and took fake names just to mix it up.
Need to drop a few more names for clout? Try Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten, Ebony Jo-Ann, Di Quon, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, and Tim Meadows, to name a few. But if you really want to turn the potential of this film on its head, try comparing it to 1983’s The Big Chill. In that film, Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, and JoBeth Williams made up most of the needy adults who found what they were looking for in their former college friends (Kevin Costner played the dead guy, fyi.) There’s a similar feeling here as well, but the overwhelming chance that one or more of Sandler’s crew is about to do something stupid at any moment hangs like a sword of Damocles over the drama. It’s just not funny enough or dramatic enough to rise to its full potential, but it does achieve a few moments of sweetness here and there, exactly what compelled you to buy a ticket in the first place, right?
To be fair, The Big Chill was far from perfect, but the balance of drama and comedy was flipped from where Grown Ups is. Would this have been more entertaining, funnier, or more dramatic if there had been less people? What if it was only about the five principle characters and only mentioning the rest in conversation? Like so many films that blur the laughs and tears, this one was somewhat mis-advertised by the studio as being funnier than it was, but the box office take indicates that audiences figured it out anyway. Now, can somebody make a balls-out comedy with a cast this robust? And please refrain from using the word “zany.”
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)