MOVIE REVIEW: Sandler and posse can't save silly 'Grown Ups'

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

Grown Ups (PG-13)

1 star out of 4

Based solely on his skills as an actor, Adam Sandler couldn't get a job at a third-rate dinner theater, but then again, no one's ever hired him to act. Every character he's ever played -- whether it is on "Saturday Night Live" or in the string of vapid, interchangeable feature films -- are slight variations on his own grating personality.

Sandler's sole strength -- some rightfully call it genius -- is (or perhaps was) his uncanny ability as a producer to cherry-pick the projects he'd star in; movies his rabid fan base used to gobble up like heavenly manna.

In the wake of the misfires that were "Reign Over Me," "Bedtime Stories" and "Funny People," "Grown Ups" is the fourth movie where Sandler plays someone who is not a kid anymore, and as a result he is less prone to perform pratfalls, engage in hysterical rants and the like.

Certainly no fool, co-writer Sandler only attempts to wedge in about five minutes of material that could be remotely considered intelligent here. The rest of the time it is the man-child potty humor that has been not only his but also the calling card of the four co-leads, who not surprisingly, are all his friends off-screen.

In much the same manner as last year's equally brain-dead "Couple's Retreat," "Grown Ups" is just an excuse for the actors to get together in a favorable climate near the water and ad lib ad nauseam. The difference here is Sandler and his cronies' insistence on painting each and every adult female character as shrews, autocrats, bimbos or hippy-dippy flakes.

In essence, the movie is little more than a reunion of early '90s "SNL" members with Kevin James pinch-hitting for the late Chris Farley and fielding the fat boy jokes. He plays a guy with a career secret married to a woman (Maria Bello, slumming) who is still breast-feeding their 4-year-old son. This tasteless subplot is one of the many that is totally beat into the ground.

Easily the most talented of the bunch, Chris Rock delivers the biggest surprise by portraying an out-of-work househusband who might be a little too in touch with his feminine side. Also "touched" but in a too-sensitive, New Age way is longtime Sandler flunky Rob Schneider, who, as pointed out early on, looks like the offspring of Elvis and an Oompa-Loompa. He's married to a woman (Joyce Van Patten) who is old enough to be his mother. The squirm factor on this particular coupling is off the charts.

David Spade shows up as, well, David Spade, a guy incapable of doing anything other than the obnoxious party-animal horn-dog.

Not surprisingly, it is Sandler -- as the high-powered Hollywood agent Lenny -- who fares the best of the five. Filthy rich, he's married to a foxy fashion designer Roxanne (the always stunning Salma Hayek) but has also had it up to here with his spoiled children and their obsession with graphic video games, constant texting and sense of entitlement. Just how Lenny breaks his kids of these learned anti-social behaviors is the only part of the film offering any depth.

Luckily for Sandler and his posse, all of his movies (save for "Punch-Drunk Love") are critic-proof. If you're a fan, you're going to see this film, period. However, the crucial opening weekend box office receipts will determine whether his fans (also now older but not necessarily wiser) wish to follow him into (relative) reflective middle-age. The smart money says no, they won't. If this film doesn't break the $100 million mark domestically, expect the next Sandler summer flick to be more like "Happy Gilmore" or "Billy Madison" and less like "Father Knows Best." (Sony/Columbia)