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Grown Ups

Like him or not, Adam Sandler has two admirable traits. As a comic actor, he's extremely generous to others onscreen, and he's loyal to friends old and new. Through Happy Madison Productions, Sandler has made sure that his buddies from college, Saturday Night Live and anyone else that enters his circle have movie work at least once a year.

This year, he put those traits into overdrive with Grown Ups. Though somewhat entertaining, it's overstuffed, just not with much resembling original ideas. If you've seen any Happy Madison films before, you know what you're getting into. Just remember that it's only the shallow end of the movie pool.

Still, it's the best comedy ever made from Jason Miller's That Championship Season. Instead of a dark secret from the team's past, however, we just get well-worn themes about growing up, the difficulties of maintaining relationships and how kids today have lost touch with the simpler pleasures in life. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what I'll have confirmed on the blu-ray disc pop-up commentary that I won't let my kids watch because they'll be too busy playing outside.

Sandler plays the (relatively) sane center of a group of friends bound together by one winning season as a junior high level basketball team. Either they have or haven't lost touch with each other over the years, depending on which way is easier for a sight gag.

For instance, all the friends know that the sensitive Rob Hilliard (Rob Schneider) has been married four times, clearly know all the ex-wives and yet get completely surprised to learn that he has grown daughters. Of course, at least two of them (Jamie Chung and Madison Riley) defy all known laws of genetics, so maybe that's why.

But that's the usual sloppiness of Grown Ups. The script, credited to Sandler and Fred Wolf, doesn't so much create characters as concepts, depending on the actors' personas to carry things over the rough spots. Rob took his pre-pubescent attraction to older women to a wacky extreme with wife number four, senior citizen Gloria (Joyce Van Patten). Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock) has become a househusband to Maya Rudolph with a complete role reversal, while Marcus Higgins (David Spade) has never settled down, still very much a ladies' man. (And yes, Tim Meadows, the actual Ladies' Man, has a small role here, too.)

Relatively new to the circle is Kevin James, who latched on to Sandler in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Underneath his character might be a nuanced performance, but since the movie doesn't really require much, director Dennis Dugan - also a Happy Madison regular - tamps him down.

Besides, Sandler needs to carry most of the dramatic burden, as a super-successful Hollywood agent who knows he's strayed too far from his roots. It doesn't take the death of Coach "Buzzer" (Blake Clark) to tell him that, but it sure gives him an excuse to try to change things with his too trendy family.

What follows is an affable weekend at a country lake house, gag piled upon gag, but only the slenderest of plot threads and conflicts easily resolved within a few minutes. Somewhere in all that getting in touch with themselves, Colin Quinn pops up as one of the members of the team these guys all beat back in junior high, still stewing over the loss. Until this character shows up mentioning it, the script doesn't offer the slightest hint that there might have been some controversy.

Who has time for plot when so many funny people have to prove they're funny? Almost every complication has to pause for all five comedians to get some sort of joke in, and then when you throw in a cameo or five, that slows things down, too. To top it all, Dugan may be a competent director, but he's not particularly clever in his staging or storytelling.

Then again, for most people who want to see Grown Ups, he doesn't have to be. Like the plot itself, the movie is an excuse for us to spend time with people who amuse us, some more than others, maybe ogle a few women in bikinis, and in its one or two lucid moments, nod with wise acknowledgment that yes, that may be how it is.

Or maybe, and this is the one point that Grown Ups doesn't dare make, maybe we really are too grown up for this.

Derek McCaw

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