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Inside jokes ; 'Grown Ups' is a rude and crude 'SNL' reunion in disguise, but is it really funny?

The fact you NEED to know about "Grown Ups" is this: Laughter was hearty and continuous all through the advance screening.

Of distinctly lesser importance in the cosmic scheme of things is that almost none of the laughter was mine. I laughed exactly three times and none of it was a soul-cleansing guffaw. One was a loud protracted bark, one was a runaway chuckle and one was a mirthless chortle.

That's it. I was otherwise, as Billy Joel once put it about an uninvolved audience, an "oil painting."

What's genuinely touching about the movie, though, are two things: 1) The audience NEEDS it to be funny so much for its own reasons that it spends most of the movie pretending that it IS (a commonplace in our age). 2) The cast visibly NEEDED to make the movie in a way that is seldom the case with cynical, throwaway slob comedies at your crowded local megaplex on Saturday night.

I wasn't the slightest bit touched by the movie's attempt to touch me emotionally, any more than I was amused by the relentlessly clumsy barrage of juvenile gags that attempted to amuse me. (Sorry. The very idea of Chris Rock virtually tossed away as a machine for indifferent gag delivery frosts my pumpkin.)

But I found myself moved, nevertheless, by the people who seemed to be in it for their own personal reasons.

That's the crucial distinction here. This is a movie with a very real reason to exist.

It's Adam Sandler's baby. He stars as a wealthy Hollywood agent, and he co-wrote the script. His company, Happy Madison, produced.

He and his buddies -- real buddies -- play members of a championship 1978 middle school basketball team who meet up 30-some years later for a summer lake house weekend after their coach dies. They all bring their wives and kids, which makes the weekend potentially very antic and rollicking and eventful.

So we spend a while meeting the guys' families, listening to their verbal towel-snaps and fourth-rate trash talk and waiting for the hidden stories to be revealed that need to be revealed. If all of this sounds like the flesh-bared slob comedy version of Jason Miller's Pulitzer-prize winning play "That Championship Season," that's because it is.

Sandler took most of the best lines for himself, made sure you knew he could dribble behind his back and sink bucket after bucket on a bankshot, and gave himself Salma Hayek to play his glamorous, haute couture wife. He gave Chris Rock the next best cache of punch lines. Kevin James didn't get that many, but he got some foolproof sight gags and the gorgeous Maria Bello to play his wife (who still breast-feeds her 4-year-old son, one of the more laugh-worthy of the crude gags).

Rob Schneider is -- with mild amusement -- married to a randy woman almost old enough to be his mother, but producer/co-writer Sandler made sure he has two drop-dead gorgeous, leggy young women around him at all times playing his incongruous daughters.

David Spade -- who looks puffy and exhausted throughout the film, probably because he's the only cast member with a regular sitcom gig these days ("Rules of Engagement") -- is no doubt thankful that he didn't have to do all that much.

But look at that cast. Add Colin Quinn (who also gets to show off his behind-the-back dribbling and playground shooting skills) as the now-grown star of the losing 1978 basketball team. And Maya Rudolph as Chris Rock's pregnant wife.

Who are these people, you ask? They are the reason I found the movie weirdly moving. They're Sandler's very real '90s cohorts on "Saturday Night Live." What this movie actually is, is fictionalized into the story it's telling: The movie is a "Saturday Night Live" reunion by a bunch of simpatico comedy pros whose brows have sunk very low in their adult years (and, in Sandler's case, whose popularity and fortunes have soared through the roof). And here they all are, a couple decades after their championship seasons of youth edge and energy at the center of American comedy hipness.

Their apparent ease of happiness together isn't fake, I think, even though absolutely everything else about the movie is. What you're watching is a kind of "Hey guys, let's get together again and make a movie." It's hard to hate it, no matter how hateful it can often be.

Let's just say that jokes about gaseous grandmothers with bunions wouldn't exactly have been played this way in their "SNL" years.

The role Sandler gave himself was, frankly, a little nauseating to me. Not only do we see him as an obscenely wealthy Hollywood agent with a gorgeous wife, we see his two sons so spoiled they send text messages to their nanny commanding her to bring them drinks at home, with Dad merely exasperated by their loathsome narcissism, rather than apoplectic.

Most nauseating of all, the eldest son is privy, at the big, climactic basketball moment, to his father's insufferably condescending gesture of Beverly Hills generosity and its higher meaning.

Which was, as far as I could interpret it, "we wealthy, privileged people in Beverly Hills have to realize how stupid, limited, fat, ugly and unhappy are the people that we spent our childhoods with and we have to throw them a condescending, hypocritical bone every now and then so they can continue with their disgusting, unsophisticated and eensy weensy little lives."

But then, I may be misinterpreting.

After that, the movie is over and everyone is allowed to go home.

Some of us were a lot happier at that prospect than others.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

***

Grown Ups

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Adam Sandler, Salma Hayek, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Maria Bello, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Maya Rudolph in a comedy about a basketball team of championship kids who convene with their families in a beach house when their coach dies 30 years later.

Rated PG-13 for nonstop crudity.

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