It's not a good couple of weeks for comedy. Next week sees the release of Dinner For Schmucks, a one joke concept that, frankly, isn't much of a joke to begin with while this week sees the release of the genuinely terrible Grown Ups.
It's hard to say which is the more disappointing. Schmucks has Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and director Jay (Austin Powers) Roach squeeze precisely one laugh from a painfully laboured script. It's a colossal waste of their comedy pedigree and, arguably, even more so than Grown Ups and its cast of people who already have some considerable blemishes on their CVs. However, even allowing for nadirs such as Mr Deeds (Sandler), Down To Earth (Rock) and, well, everything he's ever been in (Schneider), this is still a bunch of people who've generally done good things at some point in their careers. Happy Gilmore. Dogma. Spade's voicework in The Emperor's New Groove. 30 Rock. Saturday Night Live. Hitch... You would expect, therefore, the occasional successful gag, an intermittent belly laugh or two. You don't get them. At all. While Dinner For Schmucks is a one joke comedy that's at least one joke more than Grown Ups manages in its approaching two hour running time.
When they were 12, Larry, Eric, Kurt, Marcus and Rob were best friends and a championship-winning basketball team. When their coach dies 30 years later, the five (Sandler, James, Rock, Spade, Schneider respectively) are reunited and arrange to spend a few days together, plus families, at the lakehouse where they first celebrated their win.
According to the tagline / pitch, they discover that "growing older doesn't mean growing up". Nor does it mean being vaguely entertaining, funny, likeable or original as the film lurches from one obvious set-up to the next. Sandler's Hollywood big shot has kids who don't know what it is to play outside: what are the chances they'll discover the joys of simple games and friendship? Or that Spade will realise his girl-chasing is wrong for a man of his years? Or that Rock's unappreciative wife will come round to value him? Or that... oh what's the point.
From its horrible soundtrack — every "emotional" moment is signalled by syruppy strings — to the "comedy" setpieces — a basketball rematch, blame-the-dog-farting gags, a day of high-riding underwear at the water park — this is painfully self indulgent experience. Indeed, that is its biggest problem. Every "joke" is beaten to death in that SNL-style, punchlines are telegraphed a mile off, nothing can happen without an obvious moral and subtlety is eschewed in favour of slapstick stupidity, mugging for the camera and yet another dumb wisecrack. The only person who gets out of this with any credit is the likeable James and he's barely in it.
If you've ever watched a "gag reel" on a DVD release and come away with the feeling that you're not watching something amusing, you're just watching a group of work colleagues rehash in-jokes you're not privy to, then stand by for the worst of that ilk extended to 102 energy-sapping minutes. Grown Ups is mirth free, sickeningly sweet and shockingly bad.