Grown Ups


Grown Ups

Kevin James hangs on for dear life.

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek Pinault, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce van Patten, Ebony Jo-Ann, Di Quon, Colin Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows. Directed by Dennis Dugan

The problem with life is that we grow up, we move on. We never have the kind of friends we had as children (I learned that as a child, but was reminded of it some years ago when I first saw Stand By Me) and even when we reconnect, we find that our childhood friends aren’t the same people they were when we were young.

The coach of a championship middles school basketball team has died. A gruff, genial sort, he had a major effect on the lives of the starting five, who gather for his funeral; Eric Lamonsoff (James), a beefy guy who is married to Sally (Bello) who still breastfeeds their four-year-old; Kurt McKenzie (Rock) who is now a somewhat whipped househusband with a dismissive wife Deanne (Rudolph) and the mother-in-law from Hell, Madea…I mean, Mama Ronzoni (Jo-Ann); Rob Hilliard (Schneider) who is on his third marriage, this time to Gloria (van Patten), a woman 30 years his senior and who along with him have embraced a New Age vegan lifestyle; Marcus Higgins (Spade), a womanizer whose women are getting younger as he gets older and finally Lenny Feder (Sandler), the star of the team who has gone on to be a super-rich Hollywood agent married to a hot (in every sense of the word) fashion designer Roxanne (Hayek Pinault).

Lenny decides to rent the same lake house the five were taken to by the coach to celebrate their championship back in 1978. All of them are bringing a good deal of baggage with them, much of it residing in their relationships with their wives and children. Maybe all it takes is a weekend recapturing the magic of youth when a summer day seemed endless, the Fourth of July was a reason to celebrate and the possibilities were unlimited.

That’s basically all you need to know about the plot. The good news is that this is a pleasant movie that really isn’t offensive, despite some of its attempts to be as in Sally’s milk-spray into Deanne’s face, or Marcus taking a header into a pile of dog poo. The bad news is that the movie tends to settle into a rut of pleasantness, taking the bite out of comics who ten years ago would have made fun of efforts like this.

The movie is somewhat uneven; there were places where I was laughing out loud and others where I was rolling my eyes. The comics seem to be going for a juvenile kind of humor where calling each other fat in some imaginative way is the height of wit. Not that I have anything against that sort of thing – that’s what guys do after all – but it runs through the whole movie.

Nearly all of the movie’s best moments come at the hands of the five leads, which makes a bit of sense – after all, that’s who people are paying to see. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of lesser characters vying for screen time and making the movie feel a little bit crowded. One of the better moments was a speech that perennial TV guest star Joyce van Patten makes near the end of the movie during the obligatory confessional revelatory scene; it might well be the best moment in her distinguished career. Unfortunately, it feels like it should be in another movie.

If you like all these guys individually or collectively, you’re going to see this regardless of what I say. Fortunately, you won’t be disappointed. It’s not the best work of any one of them by any means, but it certainly won’t leave you feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. I saw this over the Fourth of July weekend which is the ideal time to see this; what can be more American than a bunch of friends getting together in a bucolic location to relive the glory days and fix what is broken in their lives?

 REASONS TO GO: Five of the best comedians of the 90s all together in the same film. Hayek and Bello are a couple of hotties. There are some pretty funny moments here.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is wildly uneven and relies a little bit overly much on juvenile humor and pratfalls.

FAMILY VALUES: Some scatological and sexual humor as well as a few male rear ends on display; while nothing I wouldn’t flinch at, you might want to think twice about letting the younger kids see it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dugan has a cameo as the referee in the opening basketball sequence; Sandler’s real-life wife and daughters also make an appearance as the wife and daughters of Tardio, the cannoli guy. “Amoskeag Lake” doesn’t exist, incidentally; the movie was filmed at Chebacco Lake in Massachusetts; Amoskeag refers to a dam on the Merrimack River in New Hampshire near where Adam Sandler grew up; a number of businesses in Manchester were named after it.

HOME OR THEATER: This will work just as well at home as it will in a big theater; however, this is the type of comedy meant to be enjoyed with a crowd so keep that in mind.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Igor

Shotgun Stories


Shotgun Stories

Nobody does the wary look better than Michael Shannon.

(IFC First Take) Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, Natalie Canerday, Glenda Pannell, Lynnsee Provence, Michael Abbott Jr. Directed by Jeff Nichols

For most of us, family is the most important factor in our lives. We’ll do anything, risk everything, and put our lives on the line if it means protecting our families. We strive to always be there for our families, to never fail them. When our families fail us, it is a terrible thing however.

Son Hayes (Shannon) and his brothers Kid (Jacobs) and Boy (Ligon) were brought into this world by, in Son’s words, a hateful woman who knocks on his door one night to inform him that his estranged father has died. She informs him in much the same way as she might tell him that the local supermarket is having a sale on cantaloupes. She has no plans to attend the funeral, although Son and his brothers do, even though the man couldn’t be bothered to give them names, was an alcoholic degenerate who eventually found sobriety and Jesus, and left them to start a new family with four new sons. Son, as a matter of fact, has a few words to say at the funeral, none of them good about his late dad and his other four sons who don’t take kindly to Son’s harsh words and his final defiant gesture of spitting on the grave of their mutual Pa.

Of course, it isn’t like their lives were scintillating to begin with. Son works on a fish farm feeding the fish. His wife (Pannell) left him recently, taking their son with her, since Son has a tendency to spend every dime he has gambling using a system of his own creation. Kid lives in a tent in Son’s yard and is trying to put enough money away to marry his long-time girlfriend who waits for him patiently. Boy is the basketball coach at the local middle school, living in a van and trying to beat the summer heat by plugging in a home air conditioning unit into the cigarette lighter in the van, with predictable results.

Thus is the way of things in rural Arkansas. Son’s gesture escalates into a blood feud that will leave at least one person dead and the lives of both sides altered beyond repair.

If Shakespeare had lived in Little Rock, this might be what Hamlet might have turned out like. The sense of impending tragedy is palpable, and Nichols is a keen student of human nature (being a native of the Little Rock area, he has a fine affinity for the characters and the rhythms of their speech). That’s not to say that this is a timeless classic, only that it captures certain elements of the Bard well.

Shannon is a man among boys here, showing off the kind of chops that would win him an Oscar nomination for Revolutionary Road the following year. He has eyes that pierce through the camera and a scowl that dares you to cross him, informing you that you would be most unwise if you do.

I liked the dialogue of the movie; there’s an authenticity to it that elevates the movie. The characters mostly talk about the inane, often with a biting sense of humor. Rarely does a movie explore such depth in such simple terms without a bit of a self-congratulatory streak in it. It is business as usual for these characters and they go about it with grim efficiency, knowing that given the way life has always treated them, it will end badly for them eventually.

There is a certain amount of indie drama 101 in the filmmaking here, and I won’t deny that some of this treads familiar ground. I have to admit though that I found this a fascinating life study, because while these guys may be uneducated, they’re not necessarily stupid and they certainly have a lot of qualities that are worthwhile, despite the fact that their father dealt them a losing hand from the get-go.

They keep plugging away having accepted the inevitable and embracing their own undeclared war on their own past demons, although they probably wouldn’t put it in those terms. They just follow their instincts, and those instincts are usually headed straight down the wrong way on a one-way street. If the Hayes boys were reading this, they might say something along the lines of at least that way they can see all the traffic coming.

WHY RENT THIS: A gripping look at an extended family torn apart, with some strong performances particularly from Shannon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve seen a lot of this before, albeit not as well in some cases.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes are on the mature side and there is some violence, although not graphic or brutal. There is some blue language but not a lot. I’d probably think twice before letting the more immature members of your family see it, but should be okay for everyone else.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All of the sequences taking place after dark were shot in a single night.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Spiral