Friday, August 6, 2010


Last night I did something I rarely ever do: I watched an Adam Sandler movie from beginning to end. In theory, I've got nothing against the guy. I find him likable enough, and Anger Management did make me laugh several times -- thanks, in most part, to Jack Nicholson -- but it seems like he always plays the same hapless fellow surrounded by raging lunatics. Grown Ups surprised me, though. Not because Sandler offered even the slightest variation on his alter-ego prototype. And not because Oscar-nominee Salma Hayek was playing his wife. Sandler has pretty good luck with leading ladies (Drew Barrymore, Emily Watson, Marisa Tomei), and next year he'll add two more great ones -- Jennifer Aniston and Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman -- to his collection in Just Go With It.

The reason for my extreme shock? You can put former Saturday Night Live-ers Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider in the same movie, and only the King of Queens himself, Kevin James, ends up being mildly, occasionally, amusing. Spade has played the aging, unlikely bachelor lothario one time too many, and Rock, in particular, apparently as bored as I was, didn't even seem to be trying. Come to think of it, in his movies, he rarely does, which might explain why his film career has never really lifted off. Where's that   out-of-control raging fervor that makes him such a laugh riot onstage? In Grown Ups, he all but faded into the background, as if he was slightly embarrassed to be there at all.

The plot was standard-issue male-bonding fare: Five childhood friends reconvene, with families in tow, for a weekend country retreat after the death of their old basketball coach, and hilarity -- if you consider slapstick violence, jokes about almost-jailbait hotties, and farting grandmas funny -- ensues. As I stifled a yawn, I continued watching, because I knew Steve Buscemi was coming up, and I wanted to see if he could make me laugh. He couldn't.

What did make me giggle was a scene that didn't involve the guys at all, but rather, the female costars (Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph as the wives of Sandler, James and Rock, respectively) and a muscle-bound stud who talked like the king of queens high on helium. (Anyone who's walked up and down 8th Avenue in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon knows the type.) The bit about James and Bello's four-year-old son who was still breast feeding was humorous at first -- and it reminded me that if you are breast feeding a kid who can talk to you, it's incest -- but it quickly grew as stale and gross as the breast milk used in several sight gags.

Once Grown Ups was all over, I stared at the screen in disbelief. Not because I'd lost 102 minutes of my life forever, but because a movie like this can be a huge hit -- more than $150 million at the North American box office -- while a film like I Love You Phillip Morris gathers dust waiting for a U.S. release. It's already played in theaters all over Europe with good commercial results ($16.8 million, recouping its $15 million budget), and it's coming soon to Argentina. I'm still not sure why the U.S. is so afraid of Phillip Morris. Most of the gay sex is implied, and Ewan McGregor's fake crying aside, he and Jim Carrey give fine performances that might actually generate award-season buzz in a semi-weak year.

But of course, I wouldn't expect anything more from a country that preaches justice for all but rarely practices it. (Hopefully, this week's overturning of Proposition 8 is a sign of good things to come.) Two men in love is too hot to handle, but it's perfectly fine for audiences to ROTFL at a four year old sucking his mom's nipple while her friends look on in mock horror. How grown up.
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