In the past, even the shoddiest of Adam Sandler’s films had their pockets of moronic nuttiness that stayed with you, even if the movies didn’t: Al Pacino lusting after Sandler in a dress in Jack and Jill; Sandler playing an Israeli operative who gets to fulfill his dream of becoming a hairdresser in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan; Vanilla Ice going insane in That’s My Boy—all completely stupid bits of comedic weirdness that, you have to hand it to the guy, nobody else would be nervy (or shameless) enough to try.
There’s nothing quite so ballsy or fiendishly foolish in Grown Ups 2, which is one of Sandler’s least interesting movies ever. It’s also his first sequel, a fact that may surprise his loudest detractors. As lazy as his movies may be, he’s always moved on to a brand new project afterward, even if he tends to half-ass most everything he does. The first Grown Ups was hardly stellar—or even that great—but it had a certain amount of charm, undoubtedly helped by the fact that he teamed up with real-life friends Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider to play a bunch of high school buddies who reunite to catch up on old times after their beloved basketball coach dies. If Grown Ups was a solid, conventional idea executed with warmth and the prerequisite juvenile sense of humor, Grown Ups 2 is simply a slapped-together cash grab.
It’s one thing that Grown Ups 2 is unfunny—what’s really galling is that Sandler and his cohorts can barely come up with a good reason for its very existence. Once again, Sandler plays Lenny, a hotshot Los Angeles agent who has moved his family back to the East Coast, getting more involved in the lives of his chums Eric (James), Kurt (Rock) and Marcus (Spade). (Schneider’s character isn’t mentioned in Grown Ups 2. You won’t miss him.) But where the first film was built around a vacation getaway for these pals, which allowed them to reconnect and own up to their creeping middle age, Grown Ups 2 doesn’t have much forward momentum. Lenny wants to throw a raging house party like the ones of his teen years, but there’s not much interest in building to that event. It just sort of happens—much like his adventures trying to get his son (Cameron Boyce) interested in being a field-goal kicker, Eric’s efforts to escape from his wife (Maria Bello) by hiding out with his mom (The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Georgia Engel), or Marcus’s uncomfortable meeting with a thuggish grown son (Alexander Ludwig) he never knew he had.
As with the first film, Sandler co-wrote Grown Ups 2, which was directed by longtime Sandler associate Dennis Dugan, but the communal spirit of the original has evaporated, replaced by a collection of episodic mini-movies that don’t offer a lot of laughs but are incredibly desperate in their use of scatological humor. That didn’t have much of a presence in Grown Ups, which also made room for the guys’ significant others to have some screen time. For the sequel, Bello, Maya Rudolph and Salma Hayek show up but have embarrassingly little to do. (At least they can sleep well knowing no one will blame them for this dud.) Instead, Sandler shifts the focus to his now tiresome collection of cronies and celebrity pals, including the demonstratively untalented Nick Swardson, sportscaster Dan Patrick and former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, who all seem to factor more into the movie than the women do. (Even the movie’s product placement is shown more care than the females, whose main bit of business is awkwardly ogling a fitness trainer who turns out to be gay.)
With his other films, Sandler sprinkled in a few inspired scenes or throwaway gags amidst the junk to fool us into thinking that if he just buckled down and really focused, he could make a first-rate comedy. But something as execrable as Grown Ups 2 suggests we’ve been misreading him all this time. The slapdash efforts are actually Sandler putting forth some effort—the real phone-it-in affairs are like his latest offering. May this be the only film this year where we see Steve Buscemi do a (bad) Flavor Flav impression.
Tim Grierson is chief film critic for Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.
Director: Dennis Dugan
Writers: Fred Wolf, Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, Nick Swardson
Release Date: July 12, 2013