Traditionally, narratives require conflict. The hero faces an obstacle and overcomes it. There have been artists that have circumvented this, such as James Joyce, who crafted novels without a traditional narrative structure. However, attempts at this are rare, even more so in the world of film, which is much more expensive than writing a novel. And among those that do try it, few succeed. Grown Ups is one of those failures. However, I highly doubt that it was Adam Sandler's intention to make a movie that didn't adhere to normal storytelling conventions. No, I think the Sandler and company simply thought that pulling together a group of funny guys would be enough to carry a whole movie. Sadly, it isn't.
Sandler plays Lenny Feder, a high powered Hollywood agent (as evidenced by the scene where Sandler proclaims "I'm the most powerful agent in Hollywood!") who returns to his hometown for the funeral of his beloved elementary school basketball coach. There he reunites with his old friends, played by Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider. Once there, the guys reconnect, and...that's it. There's some gags with a farting grandma, a barkless dog, Steve Buscemi in a full-body cast, and other various Sandler-esque gross out jokes, but no actual movie. Admist all the stuff going on, nothing actually happens.
It's difficult to write a coherent review of Grown Ups, because it's the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry. It's as if Sandler managed to bamboozle some Sony execs into letting him and his friends hang out by a lake for a week under the condition that they joke around and put it on film so that the studio can advertise a movie with all of these guys in it. I promise you've never seen a movie with so many funny people trying so very hard to convince each other that what they are saying is funny. The structure of any given scene appears to be: Comedian A (usually Sandler or James) tells a joke. Comedian B-E laugh, and one of the five says "That was a good one!" And that's about it.
I suppose someone at Sony realized that this meandering, unfunny mess had nothing that could be construed as a story, because two very brief scenes hint that maybe someone, somewhere, asked why nothing was happening. In the first, Salma Hayek's character goes from being a bitch to completely sympathetic (the mechanics of it aren't as important as the total 180 that her character makes), and in the other, everyone finds something to fight about, only to have the moral of the film delivered directly to them by the butt of one of their many unfunny jokes.
I have to wonder if the cast knew what kind of movie they were making. So many of the scenes involve people standing around and laughing at each other's poor jokes that you have to imagine the director standing behind the camera and saying "OK, now remember, you think that this is really funny! Laugh harder!"Particularly mystifying is the inclusion of Salma Hayek and Maria Bello. Hayek has done comedies, but usually chooses far better material, and Bello almost always makes interesting career choices. I don't know how much they were paid to be in this, but I hope it was a lot, for their sake.
It doesn't take long for the combination of saccharine sweetness and lazy gross-out humor to implode in on itself. About 15 minutes in, you begin wondering when the movie will actually start. At 45 minutes in, you wonder why Chris Rock was cast, even though he tells virtually no jokes, and plays a man so effeminate that his own wife makes fun of him. Given that Rock may be the funniest person in the entire cast, you have to wonder what he's doing here and why he isn't allowed to, you know, make people laugh.
And, of course, Sandler plays the ringleader, the guy that everyone else looks up to, the man with the plan. But there is no plan. There's no course, there's no object. I'd say that Grown Ups is cinematic masturbation, but that would imply some kind of climax. No, Grown Ups is laziness personified and thrown up on the screen for the world to see. I had a strong negative reaction to Funny People, Sandler's last headlining picture, but for all the melodramatics that movie had, at least it remembered to be about something, even if it wasn't something good. Don't reward this pointless, wasteful excuse of a movie with your hard earned money.