By Melissa Agar
Grown Ups 2 (Columbia, 2013) – Director: Dennis Dugan. Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, David Spade, Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, Georgia Engel, Steve Buscemi, Alexander Ludwig, Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Swardson, & Taylor Lautner. Color, 101 minutes.
Let’s get this out of the way first – Grown Ups 2 is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t laugh more than once throughout the course of the 101 minutes I spent in the theater with Sandler and crew. The problem is that within minutes of leaving the theater, I couldn’t remember much about the film other than the things I really hated – and there was a lot of that to go around. When a movie’s first scene includes MULTIPLE instances of a deer peeing on people, you know you’re probably in for a rough time.
As with Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2 is largely a way for Sandler to get paid millions to hang out with his buddies for a couple weeks. In this sequel, Sandler’s Lenny and his family have moved back to his seemingly idyllic hometown where he spends his days palling around with childhood friends Mackenzie (Rock), Eric (James), and Higgins (Spade). (Rob Schneider’s irritating character from the first film is happily MIA, although I did find it just a little odd that he was never even mentioned in passing.)
Each of the four friends gets a little sitcom-esque conflict to address throughout the day in which the film takes place. Lenny’s wife Roxanne (Hayek) wants another baby, but Lenny doesn’t. Mackenzie’s wife (Rudolph) forgot their anniversary, which is actually more of a victory than a conflict since he and his pals realize that her memory lapse will result in a “free pass” for him on a myriad of husbandly problems from wearing shoes on the good carpet to drinking non-diet soda with dinner. Eric is trying to hide from his wife (Bello) how much time he spends with his mother (Engel). Higgins finds out he’s a dad to an angry, violent kid named Braden (Ludwig). All of this takes place on the last day of school for the guys’ kids, an occasion the guys decide to honor with a big party. (For a party that is apparently planned in a matter of hours, it is a pretty spectacular bash complete with an 80’s theme for which everyone miraculously has perfect costumes – including a baby-sized Michael Jackson jacket. And don’t get me started on the miracle that is the Rubik’s Cube cake.)
At its core, the movie is dealing with some pretty simple but solid themes about standing up for yourself and staying true to your roots. Lenny has fled his fast-paced Hollywood life to give his kids the simple things that he had growing up like riding bikes to school or having a summer job at the local ice cream stand. When Lenny and the guys are taunted by a group of cartoonishly obnoxious frat boys (led by Lautner), the two primary themes unite as Lenny must man up in the face of bullies – something he’s historically struggled with – and defend his beloved hometown and buddies. In the end, the guys come to realize that growing up isn’t a death sentence, especially when you have a strong support network of friends and family and a hometown that loves you as much as you love it.
There is a certain amount of fun watching Sandler and his pals onscreen. They have a natural, easy chemistry that is charming and inviting. They’ve surrounded themselves with a strong supporting cast, particularly their wives. Like the guys, Rudolph, Bello, and Hayek have a great on-screen chemistry. The problem is that they don’t give themselves much plot with which to mix that chemistry. The film has an episodic structure with most conflicts easily – and predictably – solved within minutes. Because they try to cram in something for each of the four principals as well as their kids, no one gets all that much to do. Particularly lost in the shuffle are Rock and Rudolph, two funny actors who deserve much better than a lengthy conversation about who is going to clean the seemingly enormous mess their young son has made in his diaper.
A significant amount of screentime is devoted to newly introduced peripheral characters like O’Neal as a local police officer and Swardson as a bus driver who makes Otto from The Simpsons look like a teetotaler. This comes, though, at the expense of the core characters about whom we’re supposed to care. A little more time with Rock and Rudolph or the appealing Bello and James would have been time better spent than watching Swardson do his usual dumb schtick.
For a film that stands as a sort of celebration of accepting the fact that you’re a grown up, the film goes to the gross-out joke way too often. From the deer urine that opens the film to multiple puke takes and more than one poop joke, the film relies on juvenile humor that cheapens the moments of heart that do occur. Like most comedies these days geared toward younger men, there are also the obligatory gay jokes that demean the core themes even more. Even more disheartening is the amount of laughter that filled the theater when, for example, James landed naked on Spade when jumping off the quarry cliff or at the sight of a drugged-out Swardson going in for a kiss from Oliver Hudson. Like the gross-out jokes, these are cheap jokes that feel about as fresh as a can of Crystal Pepsi. Sandler has proven on more than one occasion that he’s capable of more; wouldn’t it be refreshing if he would bring the intelligence shown in, say, Funny People or Spanglish to his Happy Madison productions as well? These are likable characters played by likable actors – give them something to work with that’s a little more than just ogling boobs and riffing on fart jokes.