By Chaz Lipp
I enjoyed the first Grown Ups as a lighthearted, goofily sentimental comedy. Grown Ups 2 surprised me simply because it feels so different from the 2010 original. Most of the lead and supporting cast is back, led by Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, and David Spade as a group of lifelong friends (sadly, Rob Schneider is MIA, no explanation offered). The first one had a real reason to reunite the childhood buddies. Their high school basketball coach passed away, a beloved man who had an influence on all their lives. In Grown Ups 2, they’re just goofing off without purpose. There are laughs to be had if you go in with rock-bottom expectations, but too many of the jokes fall flat.
Lenny (Sandler), Eric (James), Kurt (Rock), and Higgy (Spade) have all moved back into their childhood town. Lenny is still married to Roxie (Salma Hayek), who longs to turn their trio of children into a quartet. Kurt is still kept tightly under the thumb of his wife Deanne (Maya Rudolph), even when she forgets their 20th wedding anniversary. Eric’s youngest kid (who was the overage breast-feeder in the first film) is still endlessly coddled by his wife Sally (Maria Bello). Adding to the zaniness this time around are various friends and enemies, including overgrown bully Cavanaugh (Steve Austin), balding brothers Malcolm (Tim Meadows) and Officer Fluzoo (Shaquille O’Neal), and Lenny’s sixth grade girlfriend Penny (Cheri Oteri), who continues to carry a torch for him.
A funny new element is the local frat boy crowd, led by Taylor Lautner and Milo Ventimiglia, who constantly heckles and bullies Lenny and his middle-aged friends. In other words, these guys are taking crap not only from perpetual jerks their own age, but the current crop of hip college kids. The main problem is that Sandler (who co-wrote the screenplay) can’t decide whether to aim this at an all-ages audience or a more mature crowd. Jokes involving a parents seeing their kids naked (and vice versa) or a super-hot elementary school ballet instructor (that all the town’s men come to see) are funny, but not taken as far as they would’ve been in an R-rated comedy. Higgy rolling down hills at lightning speed while stuck in an oversized tire is a sight gag seen many times before, including Christmas Vacation (the sled scene). These and several over belabored set pieces end with more groans than laughs.
The throwaway lines, delivered with expertly offhanded sarcasm by a group of talented comic actors, provide the biggest laughs. After witnessing the ridiculously complicated handshake routine between Lautner and company, Kurt and Eric demonstrate their own handshake (just a normal gripping of hands). There’s plenty of back-in-the-day references (especially during an ‘80s nostalgia party that ranges from Lenny’s simple Born in the USA Springsteen outfit to Kurt’s over-the-top Purple Rain Prince getup) for those old enough to get the jokes. Grown Ups 2 is totally brainless, unchallenging, summer entertainment. I just wish Sandler and company had tried a little harder to match the warmth of the original.