Do you think that other people smoking marijuana is hilarious? Do you think sex with old people is the height of comedy? Do you think that fake breasts are sexy? Do you enjoy making fun of different cultures, classes, and body types? Do you feel that scenes in a film should have the rudderless, slow-fade energy of a blocking run-through for a high school musical? If you answered ‘Yes!” to all the above, you’ll love Grandma’s Boy. Oh, and you’re also an idiot.
One of the charges leveled at corrupt regimes is the accusation of ‘crony capitalism’ – a system where you have to know people to get ahead, and where the right connections can get you the gig regardless of how competent you actually are. Backed by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production shingle and featuring a motley crew of Sandler hangers-on and old friends, Grandma’s Boy isn’t just crony capitalism; it’s crony comedy. Allen Covert plays Alex, a slackidasical videogame tester. As Grandma’s Boy opens, Alex’s roommate’s penchant for spending what was intended as rent money at Thai massage parlors results in eviction at the hands of a wackily-accented Rob Schneider, who continues his obsessive search to find new ethnicities he can’t play.
After unsuccessfully trying to crash with fellow videogame tester Jeff (Nick Swardson), Alex is forced to move in with his grandmother Lily (Doris Roberts, who presumably has burned through her Everybody Loves Raymond earnings to take a gig like this). Alex needs some peace and quiet, as the game company he works for, Brainasium, is getting ready to launch the latest game written by their coding prodigy J.P. (Joel Moore); Zen-dolt CEO Mr. Cheezle (Kevin Nealon) is even bringing in a project manager from the East Coast, Samantha (Linda Cardinelli), to make sure the game streets bug-free and on schedule. All Alex needs is time and weed to play-test through levels 10 though 15. …
… Which he doesn’t get, as grandma and her roommates Grace (Shirley Jones) and Bea (Shirley Knight) task Alex with a set of chores that don’t mesh well with his late-to-bed, late-to-rise lifestyle, or leave him much time to hang out with his tanned, doltish drug dealer Dante (played by Peter Dante; whenever a character has the same name as the actor playing him, it can be taken as a pretty grim sign). If it doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of tension or snap in Grandma’s Boy, that’s because there isn’t; scenes flow one into the other in a slow-motion stupor, with all of the vitality and spark of roadkill that’s been mounted by a clumsy taxidermist.
You may remember Covert from his work as the gay roommate in Little Nicky, or the referee in The Longest Yard, or as Phil in Big Daddy. You may also not remember these roles, which means you’re blessed by the powers of the universe. Covert and Swardson co-wrote Grandma’s Boy, from an earlier script by Barry Wernick; I must admit to certain perverse curiosity as to what the original draft might have looked like as compared with the final product. The irony is that Swardson is a talented stand-up comedian – his riff on the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad is worth the price of admission alone -- but none of that translates to the screen in Grandma’s Boy.
I have no objection to a good stoner comedy – Half Baked, for example. And what Half Baked had and Grandma’s Boy does not (or, rather, one of the many, many things that Half Baked had that Grandma’s Boy does not) was stakes on the table and an element of tension. Alex is, of course, going to wind up with Samantha; she’s the kind of fantasy object you see in idiotic comedies, a hard-partying, competent-but-cool, sexy-but-warm pal; this is the model of female comedy character best exemplified by Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, which can be summed up as ‘She’s one of the guys, but with an awesome rack!’ Cardinelli is a lively attractive actress with a nice sense of comedic timing; after this and Scooby-Doo, though, it’s becoming apparent that picking material is not among her many talents. Early on, we see Alex working on his own game, Demonika; as uber-coder J.P. melts down under programming pressure and the wounding from Samantha’s rejection of his constant advances, the climax is set up with such obviousness I think you could see it with Google Earth.
Grandma’s Boy wasn’t screened for critics, which isn’t exactly surprising. Watching it, though, I had to wonder if it was in fact screened for anyone. The question of why 20th Century Fox would put their name on a film like this comes down to the simple fact that when a moneymaker like Sandler backs a movie starring his old pal Covert, you put it out to keep him happy, much as you’d give a huge, squalling baby a bottle. Covert and Sandler actually went to NYU together; Sandler’s faith in the idea of Covert’s talent and charisma in the face of all the evidence to the contrary is as charming as it is delusional. It’s said that success has a thousand parents, but failure’s an orphan; There are a few people willing to attach their names to Grandma’s Boy, but it’s one miserable bastard of an unfunny movie.