From the agitated CGI elk that pisses all over Adam Sandler and noshes on Taylor Lautner’s crotch, to the legal diligence likely required to clear the music rights for Warren Zevon’s immortal “Werewolves of London” to soundtrack the film’s central foursome—played by Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, and David Spade—as they shop and goof off at their local Kmart, it clearly took a lot of effort to make Grown Ups 2 happen. The patchy script, by Sandler, Fred Wolf, and Tim Herlihy, feels particularly laborious, in fact. The kind of broad comedy that’s approximated here works best when there’s a potent sense of physical spontaneity and effortlessly natural wit, both of which are entirely absent from the film. The fact that one is always aware of the hard work that went into this out-of-touch sequel is partly what makes it so irritating.
The suffocating amount of story the filmmakers pack into the film proves to be another crucial element to this calamity. The central thrust of the narrative involves the foursome, led by Sandler’s Lenny, getting into a scrape with a local rich-boy fraternity, most prominently represented by Lautner, but that frankly isn’t even a quarter of it. There’s also the build-up to the climactic ’80s-themed costume party, Roxanne’s (Salma Hayek) push for a fourth child with Lenny, the mommy issues Eric (James) is working out (while also perfecting a killer burp-sneeze-fart combo), and the proudly lame peacocking Kurt (Rock) indulges in after his wife (Maya Rudolph) forgets their anniversary. On top of this, an inexplicable amount of time is devoted to the doings of their offspring. The storyline involving Spade’s Marcus meeting his unhinged bastard-spawn (Alexander Ludwig) gets points for focus, but then the director, Dennis Dugan, shows only a base interest in connecting the myriad events of the screenplay in any meaningful, enlivening, or engrossing fashion. For their parts, the four stars happily debase themselves, but only in full knowledge that their openly misogynistic, mildly homophobic papas will ultimately prove to be the wisest and most beloved characters in the film.
The comedy is wildly juvenile and occasionally revolting, but I honestly can’t remember the last time urine and vomit made me laugh so little. It doesn’t help that the film’s attempts at familial warmth register as surpassingly insincere and saccharine. (When “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, as a former bully, reminds Sandler’s schlub that he has family serving in Iraq, it rings especially fraudulent and grossly opportunistic.) The disconnect between the overtly blue-collared main characters and the men that portray them is immense and constantly apparent. That the film is rife with cameo-ready bit parts only compounds this unmistakable feeling of rich people portraying middle class badly. And if there’s a momentary gasp of nostalgia in watching Jon Lovitz play a perverted janitor or Rock spar with Tim Meadows, playing a bitter high school rival, the overall effectiveness of the tactic is dulled by the expectedly unwelcome yet inevitable appearance of Nick Swardson as a deadbeat bus driver. To his credit, however, Swardson is the most physical comedian of the lot, and appears to care about trying to make people laugh. As for the primary cast, it’s all too clear from the evidence of Grown Ups 2 that comedy is now nothing more than work.