I'll take a little bit of the blame for Grown Ups, as someone who was juvenile enough at the time to not just laugh uproariously at Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, but take Rob Schneider and David Spade seriously as comedic actors and revere that era of SNL. On behalf of myself and everyone else who was 12 at some point in the 90s, I'm sorry: we empowered these guys enough that they thought they could take a vacation by the lake, crack jokes at each others expense, and slap it together into a movie called Grown Ups.
The movie isn't just unbearably smug, casting Adam Sandler as a Hollywood type struggling with first-world problems and making vicious fun of anyone old, fat, or not as beautiful as Salma Hayek. It's also incredibly lazy, dispensing entirely with plot and assuming that the five lead actors riffing off one another will be enough for 90 minutes of entertainment. That would have been a tough sell even back in the 90s, but now-- with Spade and Schneider as dead weight, Chris Rock looking vaguely embarrassed to be there, and Kevin James flailing mightily to make up the difference-- it's basically intolerable. Whatever jokes aren't utterly predictable or unfunny to begin with are ruined by Dennis Dugan's flatfooted direction, and the film's hard right turn into plot and emotional lessons in the last 10 minutes merely highlights what a waste of time everything that came before it has been.
The flimsy frame for the story is that the five lead buddies all played on a middle school basketball team together in the 70s, and 30 years later have gathered for their coach's funeral and a Fourth of July weekend on the lake with their families. Hotshot Sandler is joined by improbably gorgeous fashion designer wife Hayek and their two snotty kids; James is also married to a hottie (Maria Bello) and comes with one chubby daughter and one four-year-old who still breastfeeds; Rock is roundly mocked early on for being a house-husband and comes with his pregnant wife (Maya Rudolph) and young kids; Schneider is now a vaguely defined New Age vegan type with an Elvis toupee and an older girlfriend (Joyce Van Patten) who is subject to some of the film's cruelest jokes; Spade is a still-single horndog who's mainly there as a catchall for every joke that isn't about fat or old people.
No one is spared from the movie's idiocy, from Schneider's three daughters (two hot, one goofy looking-- hilarious!) to the dog with his vocal cords removed to the farting and trash-talking grandma to Steve Buscemi, who shows up for the length of two or three pratfalls near the end. At least you'll know what you're in for from the movie's first minutes, when James's character is introduced while falling out of an above-ground pool and we're expected to laugh when Rock's character expresses an interest--ha!-- in cooking and caring for his children. You may still be astonished at how much dumber the movie can get, or how many times it repeats the same fat joke expecting another laugh, but Grown Ups at least does the kindness of telling you from minute one how low to set the bar.
If Grown Ups were a bad movie starring just one of these guys, we might be able to throw it in with each actor's substantial list of clunkers and move on quickly. But presented as this landmark reunion of comedic talents, and deployed into theaters near the Fourth of July holiday as some kind of family outing, all the shoddy and lazy elements of Grown Ups metastasize into unforgivable offenses. It's hard to know what's worse-- that they thought they could get away with something this bad, or that given how loud the audience laughed at my screening, they probably will.