An Adam Sandler film minus Sandler himself, Grandma’s Boy is dumb, crude and sophomoric, the type of disposable entertainment aimed directly at teenagers who think nothing is quite as funny as a well-placed groin kick or the sight of little old ladies stoned out of their gourds. However, it’s also – bad taste notwithstanding – apt to provide a decent comedic contact high from its plethora of decidedly old-school bits about smoking pot, playing videogames, and having sex with senior citizens.
Naturally, those uninterested in such pastimes will want to avoid Nicholaus Goossen’s brain cell-killing effort at all costs. But for a film infatuated with juvenile jokes revolving around karate-chopping monkeys and potent ganja dubbed “The Brown Bomber” (because of its bowel-stimulating effects on its user), Grandma’s Boy is funnier than many of its lowbrow brethren, as well as virtually any dud by Rob Schneider or David Spade (both of whom make cameos). Admittedly, that’s not saying much. Yet low expectations are the key to enjoying this supremely lackadaisical tale of a videogame tester named Alex (Allen Covert) who’s forced to move in with his sweet grandmother Lilly (Doris Roberts) after being evicted from his apartment.
A 36-year-old who spends his days identifying and fixing videogames’ bugs and his nights developing code for his own Xbox adventure, Alex is stuck in stunted adolescence, his obsession with gaming, action figures and drugs indicative of his desire to permanently live a high schooler’s life. Alex’s immaturity is ably matched by his friends Jeff (Nick Swardson) – who sleeps in a racecar bed and lives with his parents (whom he refers to as his “roommates”) – and Dante (Peter Dante), a drugged-out millionaire with an African sidekick named Dr. Shakalu (Abdoulaye N’Gom) and a preference for buying jungle animals.
Alex’s decision to temporarily reside with Lilly and her two roommates Bea (Shirley Knight) and Grace (Shirley Jones) thus seemingly prefigures the man-child’s first step toward adulthood. Yet Grandma’s Boy is a staunchly moral-free affair, refusing to succumb to its genre’s patronizing preference for imparting straight-and-narrow life lessons that invariably stand at odds with its otherwise bacchanalian comedy bits. As Alex falls in love with project manager Samantha (Linda Cardellini), throws a chronic-laced house party at Lilly’s involving bikers, businessmen and strippers, and feuds with a nerdy celebrity game programmer with a Matrix fetish named J.P. (Joel Moore), the only epiphany he undergoes involves the prudence of avoiding primates with martial arts training.
As refreshing and mildly infectious as its unabashed stupidity might be, however, the film’s crudity is ultimately an unbearable drag on its joviality. Goossen’s stewardship is best characterized as inept, and provides much of the action with a clumsiness that, rather than contributing to a laid-back, smoke-filled atmosphere, lends the film an appearance of unprofessional slovenliness. Attempting to replicate an ‘80s teen comedy vibe – from its cartoony poster art and Space Invaders-ish credit sequence to its Meatballs-style gags – Grandma’s Boy frequently feels as if it were haphazardly stitched together with duct tape.
As befitting its lineage as the offspring of Sandler’s Happy Madison production company (also responsible for Deuce Bigalow and The Longest Yard), the film regularly dips into a tired bag of bodily fluid-centric tricks, the nastiest of which involves Alex’s use of an action figure for self-gratification. And though star Covert exhibits a charming nonchalance as Alex, one-note caricatures such as J.P. – who habitually, and embarrassingly, speaks and moves like a robot – quickly exhaust their welcome by failing to come up with more than a sole amusing, defining characteristic.
If Grandma’s Boy employs a familiar hit-or-miss formula to funniness in which failure is far more common than success, it nonetheless does a surprisingly delicate job skewering its beloved videogame culture – its slacker camaraderie, its competitiveness, and its comforting geeky insularity – without ever stooping to condescension. And if its idiocy never achieves a truly inebriated euphoria, there’s still some goofy humor to be had from a film that concludes with someone screaming “Yeah, monkey, karate chop the elephant!”