(by Dustin Putman
"Grown Ups" fast became one of the biggest hits of Adam Sandler's career when it was released in June 2010, but that success only seemed to fuel the fire of its ruthless critical disdain. Yes, the film was overloaded with—and harmed by—bathroom humor, juvenile behavior, and obvious pratfalls, but what most of its naysayers seemed to overlook was what happened in between the obvious low-rent stuff. A laid-back, intermittently sweet story of old childhood friends reuniting with each other and their families after they're all brought back to their hometown for the funeral of their basketball coach, the picture's breezy tone, likable ensemble, and preference for nostalgia-tinged observations in lieu of needless overplotting gave it an unexpectedly genial undercurrent. Revisiting "Grown Ups" on Blu-ray three years later only confirmed my original assessment: it's really not that bad of a movie and has almost certainly received a bum rap. Article continues below
Marking the first sequel Sandler's ever made, believe it or not, "Grown Ups 2" is almost aggressively more of the same. If you hated the last one, you'll be in misery all over again. If you took to the predecessor, you'll find this one a fitting continuation. Like a reunion with old friends who frequently get urinated on by wild bucks (don't ask) and delight in "burpsnarting" (no, seriously, don't ask), the film marries slice-of-life comedy with as much slapstick and bodily function humor as one can squeeze into an hour and a half. Not a whole lot of it is funny, but some of it is, and what isn't tends to still be in relatively good spirits. It's impossible to take any of it seriously, but it should work like gangbusters at teenage summertime slumber parties the world over.
Since last they were seen, forty-something best friends Lenny Feder (Adam Sandler), Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James), Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock), and Marcus Higgins (David Spade) have reconnected in a big way, moving their families (or, in terminal bachelor Marcus' case, himself) back to their Massachusetts hometown to get closer to their roots. It's the last day of school before summer break, and as their kids look excitedly toward the next few months of freedom before them, the guys plan a big '80s party blowout at Lenny's to kick the season off right. Putting a slight damper on things is Lenny's wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek), who has begun to bring up the idea of expanding their family to six when Lenny is perfectly content with the three kids they already have.
Once more directed by Dennis Dugan (2011's "Just Go with It") and written by Fred Wolf (2008's "Strange Wilderness"), Tim Herlihy (2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan"), and Adam Sandler (2011's "Jack and Jill"), "Grown Ups 2" stays true to the first film by not overstuffing itself with a major central storyline, instead letting the amiable cast do their thing while clearly having a blast shooting it. There are plenty of subplots, but they drift in and out with a comfortable, unforced lack of urgency. For Kurt, now working as a cable installer, he enjoys milking the fact that wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph) forgot their twentieth anniversary. Meanwhile, Eric has started secretly spending much of his free time with his doting mother (Georgia Engel) to get the attention he feels wife Sally (Maria Bello) isn't paying him at home. As for Marcus, he only recently found out he had a son, but doesn't quite know how to connect with Braden (Alexander Ludwig), a hulking teenager who's practically twice his size. There's also loopy, strung-out bus driver Nick (Nick Swardson), who keeps tagging along with the guys whether he fully realizes it or not; Roxanne's new boutique employee, the barrette-wearing Penny (Cheri Oteri), who is still very much obsessed with former sixth grade classmate Lenny; first dates for Lenny's eldest son Greg (Jake Goldberg) and Kurt's daughter Charlotte (China Anne McClain); out-of-control police officers Dante (Peter Dante) and Fluzoo (Shaquille O'Neal); a bully from Lenny's past, Tommy Cavanaugh (Steve Austin), and a group of idiotic frat guys led by Andy (Taylor Lautner) whom Lenny and his buddies clash with at the swimming quarry. There's much more where that came from, but it all seems to seamlessly interconnect like a Robert Altman picture that just so happens to feature a person defecating in a model toilet at Kmart.
The actors are affable enough that they go a long way when what is surrounding them hits the lowest-common-denominator. Adam Sandler (2012's "That's My Boy") is the reliable ringleader of the pack, and as a producer and co-writer of the movie he warrants being asked if he's ever going to graduate from fart jokes. "Grown Ups 2" could have been much better than it is if the makers brought as much wit to the screenplay as they do kicks to the groin and bonks to the head. As Eric, Kevin James (2012's "Here Comes the Boom") is a good sport who is nevertheless the recipient of too many tiresome gags aimed at his size. Chris Rock (2012's "What to Expect When You're Expecting") and David Spade (2011's "Jack and Jill") are happily along for the ride, though Spade gets a nice moment or two with son Braden and Rock is involved in the film's funniest scene involving a hasty cable visit and his attempt to avoid seeing Deanne's overly critical mother, Mama Ronzoni (Ebony Jo-Ann).
As for the gals, Salma Hayek (2012's "Savages"), Maria Bello (2011's "Beautiful Boy"), and a woefully underutilized Maya Rudolph (2013's "The Way Way Back") gamely go through the motions, thankful whenever they get a scene that gives them something to do. One such interlude, where they take an increasingly sexual exercise class led by the pervy janitor (Jon Lovitz), is another highlight. In a mountainous cast featuring what seems to be a hundred recognizable faces, Steve Buscemi (2013's "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone") continues to show off a fearless comedic side as driving instructor Wiley; Shaquille O'Neal (2006's "Scary Movie 4") and Steve Austin (2010's "The Expendables") are surprisingly inspired as Officer Fluzoo and tough guy Tommy Cavanaugh, and Cheri Oteri (2007's "Southland Tales") is a happy addition as Penny, the delusional girl from Lenny's past that he doesn't even remember existed.
"Grown Ups 2" goes down easily even when it's just stringing along a clothesline of sketch ideas and comic set-pieces that rarely go anywhere. From a narrative standpoint, it makes no sense. Why is Braden, seen at the beginning getting off a train to spend time with dad Marcus starting school on the last day before summer vacation? Why is there a high school football team practicing after classes let out? Is it exactly responsible for Lenny's friends to dress for work and then never get there as the day plays out? Kids pop in and out of the proceedings with little to no effort explaining where they go and who is taking care of them as the adults are off doing their own thing. Trying to connect the dots is fruitless here, and yet like the first film, there is a charming, sentimental quality to its view of the importance of family and friendships. An all-male car wash is a patently ridiculous hoot, while the climactic '80s party has a pleasing, raucous feel with all the characters dressed as celebrities from the decade of big hair, leg warmers, and really fun pop music. As for how the J. Geils Band pops up to play for the shindig, it's best not to ponder the logistics. Adam Sandler and his repertoire of performers are in no danger of growing up by the end of "Grown Ups 2," but maybe that's the point. After all, where there's a first sequel, there's usually a trilogy.