‘Grown Ups 2’ Review: Taylor Lautner Upstages the Kings of Lowbrow Comedy

By  · Published on July 11th, 2013

I haven’t seen the first Grown Ups. I never had the desire to. But I took the bullet for the team and saw Grown Ups 2 anyway. Nobody else had the desire to. I understand the stigma here. If you know you don’t like Adam Sandler and Co., you probably won’t like this one. You likely didn’t see the original either. But many did. At $271m, it’s the highest grossing movie worldwide for both Sandler and his production company, Happy Madison. That doesn’t mean people liked it (gross doesn’t actually account for taste), but they made a sequel regardless. And I know at least some people liked this one. At the screening I attended, mostly including non-press, there was a fairly continuous roar of laughter.

As for me, all I can say is I didn’t dislike it. It astounded me too much with its nonsense, and it’s not nearly as offensive as I’d anticipated. So I have no real issue with it. I might have even smiled once or twice at something ridiculous. This is a movie that opens with Sandler’s character, Lenny, waking up to the sight of a big buck deer staring back at him in his bedroom. His wife (Salma Hayek) sees it, screams and the animal rears and then pisses in Sandler’s face. They chase it around the house, it eats the dog’s food, pisses again on Lenny’s showering/masturbating teen son and then finally exits through the front door, which had been left open all night. And that winds up being the most logical moment for all of the next 100 minutes.

Grown Ups 2, which is directed by regular Sandler movie helmer Dennis Dugan (Grown Ups; Happy Gilmore; Jack and Jill), is a mostly plotless movie, a feature-length sitcom (some supporting players even have catchphrases) where the situation is that it’s set in a town filled with maturity-challenged morons. If it was on television it’d be somewhere between the mean-spiritedness of Married… With Children and the surreality of Get a Life. Yes, I’m using examples from more than 20 years ago, but that’s okay because the residents populating the world of this movie are stuck even further back. Except for the kids, who see the 20th century as ancient times where rock duos had names that sounded like cereal brands (Hall & Oates, winding up the butt of an easy joke that surprisingly didn’t come out of Chris Penn’s mouth in the original Footloose).

If there is any narrative to speak of that connects the activities of this madcap town, it’s this: Lenny’s wife wants to have another kid, and Lenny doesn’t, and the whole movie’s compilation of scenes make up the best argument in Lenny’s favor. Anybody who procreates in this place should be imprisoned for child endangerment. Hardly anyone seems to escape to better pastures (Lenny did, and his homecoming was the story of the first film, I believe), and all the grown ups in this cursed town fail to actually become adults. The children are doomed. They have to deal with drugged bus drivers and drunk doctors and driver’s ed teachers and incompetent educators and parents and police and other authority figures.

At one point it’s revealed that Lenny’s middle child is a shockingly gifted placekicker. Then Lenny trips and breaks the boy’s leg, blowing his future. The man also tells his kids they’re ugly while objectifying their mother as being an unlikely catch for their kind. Another boy, this one the terribly half-witted son of Eric and Sally (Kevin James and Maria Bello) is for some reason misled to believe he’s very bright. The new toddler of Kurt and Deanne (Chris Rock and Maya Rudolph) bites strangers in the ankle. Poor Braden (Alexander Ludwig), the suddenly appeared unknown son of Marcus (David Spade). His caveman-level eloquence makes him suited for this town, but he still presumably would have had a better life where he came from. Child Protective Services should show up and take him and the rest of the under-18 population away before it’s tool late and they wind up like their elders.

There is also a subplot involving townie-hating fratboys from a local university. This pack of cartoonishly wild, beer-fueled, lacrosse-stick-armed dudes is led by an uncredited Taylor Lautner (keeping his shirt on the whole time), who does a lot of impressive flips for no reason other than to do a lot of impressive flips. They represent outsiders and passers-through who don’t fit the strange, irresponsibility prone community of this town (though they are also pretty stupid) and will presumably go out and settle elsewhere. And in the movie’s climax, they battle against pretty much every other character from the movie (each of them dressed as a different 1980s icon, because they’re all at an impromptu 1980s-themed party at Lenny’s home) in the goofiest extensive rumble since the detour fight in The Cannonball Run. One guy is literally thrown over a house.

It’s a pretty weird movie, like an aimless Simpsons episode filled with all the colorful ensemble but without any of the cleverness, and Homer is the smartest guy in Springfield. Here that’d be Sandler, who with his trio of buddies are typical-of-late comedy protagonists in arrested development, only the manchild shtick is less prominent because every other character is dumber and/or more immature than the next. When one of the main guys shows off his talent to successively burp, sneeze then fart, others don’t think it’s gross but rather aim to accomplish it themselves like it’s the new hot trend. When a gross-out situation occurs where a character is made to look like soft serve chocolate ice cream is coming out of his ass, everyone on screen seems to get a giggle out of it and shrug it off instead of seeing it as we do, with a combination of disgust and disbelief that elicits gut reaction laughs of shock and discomfort.

Grown Ups 2 is clearly and expectantly filled with lowbrow humor. It’s got the usual jokes about and gags featuring poop, piss, balls, cleavage, vomit and naked or near-naked men. There is also the cheapest, slightest comedy involving homosexuality and the possibility that one ambiguous character might be transgender. None of this deserves a pass in balance with Steve Buscemi dressed as Flavor Flav or the satisfaction of what has to be the largest gathering of Saturday Night Live vets ever on film – not that giving all these guys an easy paycheck isn’t part of the point of its production (even Melanie Hutsell gets a line of dialogue and Cheri Oteri a very weak story arc). However, that communal aspect of the casting ties well with the movie itself, as if the town were a sort of stand-in for SNL’s Studio 8H (Kevin James has become an honorary castmate as fat-guy replacement for Chris Farley).

Much of Grown Ups 2 feels like a cakewalk for a bunch of people who probably couldn’t have cared less about making it other than the anticipation of more money. Yet there is plenty of effective joke-writing craft to meet the demands of its audience. It’s not particularly smart nor is it comedy that everyone will appreciate or tolerate. For Sandler and friends, though, it’s a considerably low concept and innocently drawn look at familyhood on some absurd planet that’s far off from our own.

The Upside: It’s definitely not as horrible as it’d been made out to be (though I don’t know how it compares, better or equal, to the original); Lautner provides some silly scene stealing; the ’80s party climax is kind of a blast

The Downside: It’s still pretty dumb and juvenile and sexist and mean; the lack of a real premise makes it seem even more like a basic cash grab

On the Side: Not only is it strange that Rob Schneider doesn’t reprise his role from the first movie (due to a scheduling conflict reportedly), his character isn’t even acknowledged.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.