Grown Ups 2 sucks, but even by that bold statement it still manages to improve on its rock bottom predecessor. Inexplicably the first sequel in Sandler’s lengthy, lucrative, but gradually waning career, this at least feels less like a vacation for all the parties involved. The leads are still coasting on their previously crafted personas with no surprises whatsoever. It’s also peculiarly an even shoddier assembly of footage than the first film was, so I guess that’s still a huge drawback. At least I laughed three times in this one at some throwaway moments and Sandler wisely defers a couple of times to some younger actors, but it’s still useless, smug, and pointless on every level. At least there’s more interesting things to talk about this time out other than just how abjectly boring it all is.
Lenny Feder (Sandler) has settled back nicely into his old hometown and left his former Hollywood life behind. He spends his days screwing around with his buddies Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), and Marcus (David Spade). His family seems to be doing fine overall, but his wife (Salma Hayek) is starting to get baby crazy again. They all have their various personal difficulties going on, but they decide to pull it all together on the last day their kids have of school and throw a 1980s themed party at Lenny’s house.
That’s really all there is with the action pretty inexplicably and highly illogically happening over the course of a single day. The film pretty much spends the entire first half of the film setting up long term gags that may or may not ever have a pay off. No one really seems to care very much if any of the jokes are actually funny as long as the jokes are there. In this sense, the sequel bests the original because all of the fake and forced sentimentality that grated the last time out has been excised completely. This film wouldn’t know what the word sentimental means if it came up and bit it on the ass. The few moments where people actually have to share their feelings in the bro-iest possible ways are fleeting, and thankfully so.
At times everyone seems like they want to make an actual movie with some sort of effort behind it, but no one apparently told Sandler’s #1 hack Dennis Dugan about that, and what he churns out is the most incompetently slapped together studio film in decades; probably since Pootie Tang and that was a film that was taken away from its director by a studio that screwed it up. The film can’t even manage to hire decent visual effects artists to gloss over its shortcomings, as evidenced by a ludicrously awful opening sequence involving a deer breaking into Lenny’s house and getting so frightened it pisses all over Sandler and his son (who was totally jerking off in the shower, because jokes!).Given how rigidly controlled a Sandler production tends to be, there’s no such excuse here. Grown Ups 2 can’t be called a sketch movie because it’s trying to have a linear plot, and yet maybe two scenes are actually able to transition into one another. It’s not even a movie, really. It’s not even sketches. It’s just kind of a bunch of stuff barfed out onto a screen because Sandler one day just woke up and said “You know what? Fuck it. Grown Ups 2. Call the guys. (pause) No, I don’t care if it’s good, JUST DO IT.” At least it zips to the finish line in under 100 minutes, which is fine since it’s impossible to care what happens to anyone in the film in the first place.
If anything, Sandler becomes both within and without the worst thing about the film. It’s insufferable to watch a talent like his just coast through spouting a bunch of lazy one liners and insults that are dated by at least 15 years. Say what you will about films like Little Nicky, Jack and Jill, or That’s My Boy, but at least his roles in those films required a sense of manic energy and fearlessness that was admirable in spite of those films’ more dubious qualities. Here he just seems content to simply ogle Hayek’s ample bosom, spout off half hearted life lessons to his kids, and get involved in an almost non-existent subplot involving his inability to confront the childhood bully that tormented him (Steve Austin). He just doesn’t seem that interesting as an actor here, but as long as the film follows the comedic creedo Sandler minted for himself around about the same time Mr. Deeds was made – dictating that he only play someone that’s successful, awesome at everything he tries to attempt, loyal to those around him, and constantly capable of banging any woman in the room – he stays a relatively happy man.
If anyone were to write a look back on Sandler’s career, I would suggest the title be “Ego and Loyalty”. With the exception of Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, Sandler hasn’t made a single film since the turn of the century that wasn’t entirely a vanity project. Even Funny People and Spanglish were vanity projects, but they were vanity projects for Judd Apatow and James L. Brooks, which is probably why he was able to understand them. Success literally went to his head, but he’s nothing if not fiercely loyal to those who helped him get to where he is today, inviting anyone and everyone who has ever floated through his sphere of influence to show up to the set for a few hours for a paycheque.
Aside from his core trio (previous film star Rob Schneider’s absence here isn’t missed even slightly), the film seems to have been structured around the cameos they packed into it, not always necessarily from surprising left field choices (like Shaquille O’Neal as a local cop, the aforementioned appearance from Austin, or in one of the few genuinely great gags, the entirety of the J. Giles Band), but from all the ghosts of Sandler’s past. Jon Lovitz comes back and then seconds later there will be Tim Meadows followed quickly by anyone and everyone who ever played one of Sandler’s cronies in a film.
It’s disorienting and cliché when done to this degree, but it leads to the only genuinely touching moment in the film. It’s a throwaway bit where Sandler’s Lenny is sitting among friends and directly next to his former Remote Control co-star Colin Quinn, playing a local ice cream shop worker who never moved on or made a better life for himself. They make it known that they used to be friends and Lenny kind of cops to their friendship just sort of drifting apart. It seems almost conciliatory and at the heart of the man who made the film, and in that moment the film becomes an almost intriguing case study and lens to re-examine a lot of Sandler’s previous work. It feels genuine to a degree that the previous film couldn’t muster through its very phoniness and supercilious attitude towards the audience. This isn’t a film made for an audience. It’s a film made to amuse Adam Sandler and no one else, but if they end up liking it, the product they get back will always be made with the same attitude: “Whatever. Who cares? Can I just make sure my friends get paid?” It’s the ultimate in backhanded altruism, but it’s probably the most genuine thing about him at this point.
As for the supporting cast, none of them have decent stories. They have single character traits to pay off as gags later on if the audience doesn’t forget about them before that. None of their kids even get that much to do except remark about how terrible their parents are. Kurt has decided to exploit the fact that his wife (Maya Rudolph) forgot their 20th anniversary instead of the other way around. Eric can’t stand to be around his wife (Maria Bello) and watching her turn their kids into idiots under the guise of building their self-esteem and he ends up becoming a closeted mama’s boy as a result. Single guy Marcus starts the film waiting at a train station to pick up a kid he never knew he had and he even has to ask who the woman on the other end of the phone is, begging the question as to how the heck he even found out in the first place. None of this stuff goes anywhere interesting or even has any pay off since the film simply ends as soon as all of Lenny’s stuff is wrapped up since we shouldn’t really care about anyone else.
James, Spade, and Rock are all fine in their own ways, with Spade quite shockingly coming closest to an actually decent performance, but they are only there as sparring partners and gag delivery systems. In the few scenes the film gives us with the whole group banded together, there’s almost an approximation of fun. Part of that might have to do with the film’s core subplot about the gang running afoul of a bunch of entitled fratboys who have laid claim to the small town watering hole. These young bros who need to be taught a thing or two about respect are led by an amiably goofy Taylor Lautner, who seems to be having a blast going over the top on purpose for a change. Also similarly standing out in a role that really should have had more screen time is Hunger Games actor Alexander Ludwig as Marcus’ heavily tattooed and delinquent son. Lautner and Ludwig get the only genuine laughs in the film playing on their pretty boy personas. At least they come out ahead in the end, even if everyone else stays pat.
The film lurches around from joke to joke, botching the execution of even the ones that had the most potential, including the nostalgic and playful 80s party at the end which actually in theory wasn’t a bad way to end the movie if everything about it had any strength to it. Grown Ups 2 throws so many balls up in the air at once that it’s amazing the one that gets the most screen time is how James’ character is able to burp, sneeze, and fart at the same time. It can’t be bothered to take the time to actually develop anything, and when you have buddies like the painfully untalented Nick Swardson (who’s actually worse in anything than Schneider on his worst day) playing a drugged out, schizophrenic, and quite possibly gay school bus driver or Tim Meadows donning a fake wig and a catch phrase, what more do you need? The answer is a whole hell of a lot more than this, but I could list of a laundry list of other useless things that happen and don’t go anywhere if you would like.
Then again, I have no idea who even asked that question on even a rhetorical level. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that this thing will keep Sandler and company’s bank accounts liquid for the next several years. I guess in that respect this review and the film it’s chronicling are quite similar. Neither has any reason to exist, goes on for way too long, and either way the punchline is “fuck it.” At least like Sandler, I am also loyal to a fault. If you made it to the end of this review, I can’t get you a six picture deal at a major studio, but I can offer a heartfelt thank you.