At risk of losing all critical credibility, I must admit that I am an unapologetic fan of Adam Sandler. His first forays into filmdom, Billy Madison & Happy Gilmore, are two of the funniest, weirdest, craziest, and irreverent comedies ever made. But if those two movies are like punk rock than Grown Ups 2 is folk music. This film meanders from one lame comedic set-piece to another, devoid of any sense of plot or structure. That wouldn’t be such a problem if any of it were funny. It rarely is. It’s disheartening to see someone who was once a comedy all-star put out a film so lazy and uninspired. Adam Sandler is undoubtedly a smart and funny guy; deep down he has to know that this isn’t very good. Even more so than Grown Ups 2 insults the audience’s intelligence, Sandler insults his fans with the fact that he no longer cares.
The story (and I use that term lightly) sees former Hollywood agent Lenny Feder (Sandler) returning to his small hometown to raise his family. Also in town with their respective families are Kurt McKenzie (Chris Rock) and Eric Lamonsoff (Kevin James). The still single Marcus Higgins (David Spade) visits and learns that he is the father of a teenage son, (Alexander Ludwig) a psychopath who is violently angry with his absentee dad. Inexplicably missing is Rob Schneider whose disappearance is never explained as if he didn’t exist in the first movie at all. It’s unclear why Schneider got cut from the sequel, but seeing as Sandler appears to be his only employer these days, it’s hard to imagine it was due to a scheduling conflict.
The entire film takes place on the last day of school before summer break. With so many families involved, almost each kid gets their own subplot, taking screen-time away from the established comedians. Lenny’s son Greg (Jake Goldberg) has a crush on a girl at school who is way out of his league and he’s intimidated to ask her out. Lenny gives some fatherly advice, “You’re fugly. But all the men in our family are fugly, it doesn’t stop us from getting women.” His other son Keith (Cameron Boyce) is dealing with a school bully, and Feder tries to get him to stand up for himself, but it turns out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Feder is still scared of his former school bully Tommy Cavanaugh (‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin) who has reappeared to torment him in adulthood. Meanwhile, Higgins and his new son have to work out their issues. James’ and Rock’s characters kids have subplots as well but it’s irrelevant to even mention them as their so insignificant and abruptly resolved, if at all. In fact, most of the character’s storylines go absolutely nowhere; with flickers of plot points being brought up then never seen again.
Many moments throughout this film don’t even feel like an Adam Sandler movie as much as they do a bland children’s sitcom on the Disney Channel or a subpar Wayan’s Brothers’ movie. The jokes are aggressively stupid, as if Sandler and his writers sat around asking themselves, “How can we make this dumber?” Worse is the execution of many of the jokes which just felt oddly off. If timing is everything in comedy then the filmmakers watches must have been defective.
There are so many funny and talented performers in this movie including a large assembly of Saturday Night Live alumni, with appearances by Tim Meadows, Colin Quinn, Andy Samberg, and Jon Lovitz; among others. But they barely get anything funny to say or do. One scene in particular featuring Jon Lovitz as a pervy janitor of a women’s fitness class feels like a random SNL sketch dropped into the middle of the movie. Again, the fickleness of this scene wouldn’t be a problem if any of it were funny. It is not. Nick Swardson, who’s a regular Sandler supporting player and can be very funny, plays one of the weirdest and least funny characters of any comedy in recent memory. He’s a whacked out, drug-addled school bus driver. Sounds funny on paper. It is not. And you know a movie is in trouble when Shaquille O’Neal gives a funnier performance than Chris Rock. O’Neal, being a behemoth of a man, gets some funny sight gags including him sleeping in a child’s playhouse. That’s kind of funny. Kind of funny. There are a handful of chuckles and decent one-liners but there isn’t one big belly laugh in the entire movie.
The scatological driven humor reaches levels of unbelievability, with most jokes featuring piss, farts, and projectile vomiting. One joke that keeps getting a callback is that Kevin James’ character has perfected the sneeze/burp/fart in which he can do all three at the same time. This joke isn’t done once; it’s a running gag throughout the movie. The jokes that aren’t about bodily functions use a tired formula of applying a metaphor to describe someone’s physical appearance. One of the character’s calls Chris Rock ‘skinny Danny Glover’. After a vain fraternity guy played by Taylor Lautner insults Sandler, he retorts, “Easy there Abercrombie.”
Seeing Sandler’s usual suspects (such as Peter Dante & Allen Covert) is usually one of the joys of visiting Happy Madison land. Here, their appearances just feel arbitrarily thrown in and they aren’t funny. At no time does any of this feel sincere or like you’re not watching a movie as not one character emulates the behavior of anyone in real life. At one point Sandler says “We’re irrelevant, we’re losers, we’re old.” Is he admitting something or is the irony lost on him? Comparing this to last months This is the End, (the best comedy of the year) starring the younger generation of comedians like Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, makes Grown Ups 2 all the more embarrassing. Rogen played Sandler’s comedy protégé in the movie Funny People. The student has become the teacher.
Of all the movies Sandler could have chosen to sequelize, Grown Ups is one of the most unappealing. How about Bigger Daddy? You Still Don’t Mess with the Zohan? Happier Gilmore? Or better yet an original idea? Seeing as the original Grown Ups was his biggest box office hit, (raking in over $270 million worldwide) the reason for the sequel is apparent; but it also makes it hard to defend him against accusations of being a sellout. While it’s becoming more questionable, it’s still possible that Sandler has another great comedy left in him. But at 46 years old, Sandler has made his most juvenile movie yet with Grown Ups 2. If this is growing up, he needs to regress.