Grown Ups (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
Is it too overblown to suggest that what passes for the modern American mainstream comedy has finally descended into the downright sociopathic? The relentless cruelty of this ugly, rancid movie requires a shocking lack of empathy if you're going to laugh at it — it is alleged to be a comedy, after all — until it expects you to turn your humanity back on for the "heartwarming" bits.
Of course, you could fake it, like a sociopath does. Or like Grown Ups does.
The nightmare of Grown Ups is that it thinks it has something wise and wonderful to offer nostalgic Gen Xers: the warm glow of those summer days before videogames, when we played outside until the streetlights came on, concerned with nothing more than skipping stones, splashing in the pool, catching fireflies and, I dunno, eating bologna sandwiches and stuff. Sure, it's a lovely portrait. But Ted Bundy was charming, too. And if we're to believe this portrait, then we must also accept that the five men doing the reminiscing are as pointlessly vicious as they're depicted to be, and that director Dennis Duggan and screenwriters Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf honestly believe their film's shamelessly venomous perspective is one with which audiences will identify.
These five guys, who haven't seen one another in years, reunite for the funeral of their former basketball coach. None of them have actually grown up, merely gotten older and, it seems, infinitely more malicious. The characters — played by a rogues' gallery of juvenile idiots: Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider — don't think they're malicious, of course: They're just regular guys getting together to catch up and chat about the old days.
These are, we're meant to accept, ordinary people just like us. Their kids are terrible brats. (They don't appear to realize this is at least partly their fault.) And their wives run the gamut from emasculating to embarrassing, but all are certainly way out of their league — Sandler is married to Salma Hayek? James is married to Maria Bello? — except Schneider's wife, played by the much older Joyce Van Patten, because clearly a man who finds an older woman attractive enough to marry is endlessly hilarious.
Grown Ups purports to have been "written," but it plays as if the guys are merely sitting in the back of the classroom of life, smirking and lobbing spitballs at everything that confounds their adolescent mindsets. I'm sure I've joked before about how I wanted to cry, a movie was so bad, but I actually was driven to the verge of tears — of horror and frustration and despair — by this endless barrage of callous indifference to and detachment from anything remotely resembling human sympathy.
Anyone who deviates in the slightest way from a narrow range of perceived notions is open to ridicule: Men who aren't "masculine enough" and women who aren't "girlish enough" just about covers it, though anyone daring to act as if they don't appreciate these boundaries comes in for a lashing, too.
And then... and then, we're intended to take lessons about kindness and understanding from Grown Ups? After Adam Sandler has sneered his way through this hatefest, he's gonna school us in the right thing to do?
Not only does Grown Ups have no heart, it has no shame.