Go with what you know…

Two former box-office titans battled for relevancy doing what they are known best for in a market that has, at times, met their new releases with utter indifference. For Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups,” he herds up his usual suspects for a comedy about embracing (?) their ages. For Tom Cruise’s new vehicle, “Knight and Day,” he relies on his action hero roots, which have proved his bread and butter.

They both entered the race being bested by a gaggle of animated toys, but if either film were a clue as to what’s in store for their next chapters in their careers, they better look at some high-profile cameos on TV, pronto.

Let’s start with Cruise, whose career breadth, peaks (and subsequent implosion) is a tad more impressive. “Knight and Day” is the sort of film that Cruise could coast on in his earlier years while working on more important projects. It’s a film that goes everywhere you’d expect it to and offers little new to an already tired formula (hell, a film with almost the exact same premise, “Killers,” was released a mere month ago).

The only thing “Knight and Day” does have on its side is Cruise. You can factor in all the couch-hopping, Scientology-spewing tirades of the last few years, but the moment he makes his appearance and flashes those blinding-white teeth, you know you are dealing with a star. He plays Roy, a man with superior fighting ability who, after meeting an June (played by Cameron Diaz), an attractive fellow airplane passenger, tells her he is a former spy wanted by the CIA for a crime he did not commit and is in possession of a really super-duper strong battery.

The rest of the film is like an action movie coloring book. You know exactly what the picture is, you just wait to see if any unique colors will be used.

Well, director James Mangold uses only the Crayola 12-pack, so don’t go looking for exotic hues as Caribbean Green, Goldenrod, Yosemite Campfire or Tumbleweed here. And don’t expect him to go outside the lines. For everyone involved performs dutifully, if rather blandly. Fight Scene A leads to Romantic Tryst B, which leads to Car Chase C, setting the scene for Romantic Misunderstanding D,and so on.

Diaz has had the good fortune of a lengthy stay in Hollywood, but I still cannot grasp why for the life of me. Sure, she’s uniquely attractive, just like every other “unique” starlet. Her ability as an actress runs the gamut from giggly to more giggly. Her turns in more serious endeavors (“Gangs of New York,” “Being John Malkovich”) have been elevated only by those working around her. Here, she has the additional burden of playing the part of a classic car restorer.

Sure she is.

The only person in the entire affair who is putting effort into it is Cruise. In a riff on his “Mission: Impossible” hero Ethan Hunt, Cruise seems more energized than he has been in quite some time. Perhaps it was the accolades from his comedic turn as swarthy producer Les Grossman in last year’s “Tropic Thunder” (Please, Movie Gods, do not go through with the ill-conceived plan to make this amusing cameo role into a feature picture!). Whatever the reason, he’s recharged and takes “Knight and Day” up a notch because it looks as though he’s have a great time.

A great time will be hard to come by, though, in Sandler’s latest, “Grown-Ups.” Let me preface the review by saying that my relationship with Sandler’s oeuvre has been one that would have fascinated Dr. Pavlov. It is said the definition of insanity is doing the same exact thing and expecting different results. Like some partially lobotomized psychiatric patient, I trudge to the theaters for each new Sandler release, thinking – hoping – this will be the one to help me understand why he is such a phenomenon. Yet each time, I am repeatedly met with the same exact sense of frustration tinged with sadness for mankind.

This guy has enough money to cover the US deficit, is friends with some solid talent who appear in his films, and yet he continually puts out projects that feel as though we all came in on the tale end of the joke.

Sure, everyone onscreen is yukking it up, high-fiving and doling out man hugs, but for what? “You’re fat!” “You’re old!” “You’re ugly!” These are what pass for highlights of humor when a group of 40-somethings gather after a funeral of a beloved basketball coach and decide to spend the weekend reminiscing, passing gas, whining, and ripping on one another’s spouses and children.

It’s like “The Big Chill,” only a whole lot fartier.

Seriously, I cannot begin to tell you what passes for humor here, because I am not really sure what the jokes were aside from mere grade-school taunts. It’s one of those lazy pieces of filmmaking where we first meet the gang as kids and they now sport the exact same haircuts as they had as children, just in case we had trouble differentiating our David Spades from our Chris Rocks.

Sandler has never been interested in culminating humor beyond the most base level, but one would hope that a film with a title like “Grown-Ups” would mark a turning point and demonstrate lessons learned not only by the characters but by the actor/writer/producer himself.

No such luck.

But hey, if your idea of summer laughs comes in the form of watching Rob Schneider tongue-wrestle a septuagenarian, your dreams have been realized. All others may be wondering just when the titular grown-ups are going to show up.

Not even a cameo from Tom Cruise can save this one.

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1 Comment

  1. My heart will always have a spot soot for Cruise.

    He’s like Nintendo, the last remainder of our 80’s childhood.

    As for “Grown Up”, just seeing the poster with all the stars’ names was enough to give me epilepsy.

    It’s like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World” but for the WORST comedians in the world.


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