Dir: Dennis Dugan. US. 2010. 102mins


Slapdash filmmaking and a thick, indolent haze of self-satisfaction most characterise Grown Ups, Adam Sandler’s new ensemble comedy, which rounds up a bunch of old costars and offscreen pals and serves as an informal reunion of Saturday Night Live alumni. A few fitful flashes of interpersonal ribbing interrupt what is otherwise a wan, meandering tale, which warms over hackneyed bromides about familial engagement and ladles those over thinly sketched characters and stock banter galore.

Broadly speaking, the idea of an adult reunion between Sandler and his old SNL running mates has undeniable appeal, given their collective rapport.

Judd Apatow’s amusing but challenging and R-rated Funny People ($51 million Stateside) served as a commercial hiccup last year in Sandler’s otherwise steady box office dominance, in which $100 million domestic grosses, and almost equivalent international returns, are rung up annually each summer. Given its well known cast, Grown Ups should open big and coast across that plane, while not delivering the sort of first-rate word-of-mouth to drive it much higher.

Drawn back together after three decades by the funeral of a coach who guided them to a middle school basketball championship, five old friends and their families gather over an extended weekend to reconnect and enjoy the outdoors. At the center is Lenny (Sandler), a big-time Hollywood agent who manages to still dress in shorts and T-shirts. He reconnects with pals Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade), Rob (Rob Schneider) and Eric (Kevin James).

A frequent Sandler collaborator, director Dugan (Big Daddy) shoots static frames, and in a style more suited for episodic television (set-up, action, reaction). Grown Ups consequently never feels anything more than neatly pre-packaged and segmented.

Broadly speaking, the idea of an adult reunion between Sandler and his old SNL running mates (with James thrown in for good measure, replacing the late Chris Farley) has undeniable appeal, given their collective rapport.

But co-writers Fred Wolf and Sandler, in only his second live-action screenwriting credit of the last decade, don’t exploit the rich potential of lifestyle differences for real comedic friction, and fail to concoct anything more than sitcom-level conflict; a stakes-free basketball rematch finale against members of the squad Lenny’s friends defeated as kids only prolongs the agony. Meanwhile, the movie’s one-note characterisations (the henpecked househusband, the short hornball, the even shorter vegan) don’t allow for any recognisably human depth or richness.

Instead, rather predictably, the actors just each yawningly trade on their own well-worn personas. It’s air-quote comedy, with all the make-a-buck calculation of a rock ’n’ roll reunion tour.

Production companies: Happy Madison Productions, Relativity Media, Columbia Pictures (US)

USdistribution: Sony Pictures

Producers: Jack Giarraputo, Adam Sandler

Executive producers: Barry Benardi, Allen Covert, Tim Herlihy, Steve Koren

Screenplay: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf

Cinematography: Theo van de Sande

Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake

Editor: Tom Costain

Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams

Main cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Dennis Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten, Di Quon