No matter what bizarre mix of marketing allegories and clueless movie executive gut checks that drives Hollywood business these days, it may be impossible to ever explain just why anyone thought Adam Sandler’s Grown Ups (2010) required a sequel. The first film was a dismal mash-up of lame, adolescent body humor and needless saccharine sentimentality, overlaid with a cynical market-driven rubric: if you stick enough stars and sort-of-stars in a film, it will sell. Despite being routinely panned, Grown Ups did make some money. Perhaps that’s all that’s at work with Grown Ups 2. People will still pay to see a collection of nineties-era Saturday Night Live comics rehash their antics, and given the slew of blockbuster busts this summer, that formula is as reliable as any in uneasy Hollywood these days.
Regardless, the incredible surprise is that whoever green-lit Grown Ups 2 is going to look like a genius. The movie is legitimately funny, one of the few sequels that outpaces its first installment, and you almost wish it wasn’t spoiled by the awful first effort. What helps the new movie is that it doesn’t have to spend much time messing around with characters. The presumption is we know these four grown up children from the first film, but the reality is they are recognizable and simple trope-characters that didn’t need much story in the first place. Sandler’s Lenny Feder is a successful Hollywood guy who has moved his LA wife, Roxanne Chase-Feder (Salma Hayek), and their children back to Feder’s home town. There he palls around with his childhood friends Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), and Marcus (David Spade). The scenario offers opportunity for comedic riffs on family life, marital relationships, children, small towns, and the warmth of the simple life.
The new film opens with a wrecked gag that, nonetheless, does pump some energy into the opening scenes. A deer has wandered into the Feder household and it proceeds to trash the house and urinate on a few of the family members before chewing up Feder’s daughter’s favorite sleep toy. Then, the gags keep rolling in like waves. It’s the last day of school, and the bus driver is drugged-up on pills, so Feder and his buds end up driving the bus around town, picking up kids and then heading to the K-Mart where they reminisce about old times while sitting around on camping displays.
The movie barely has a plot. There’s some tension created when the old guys go their old stomping grounds, a quarry swimming hole, only to be bullied by some ripped frat boy alpha males (with a rather enjoyable cameo from Twilight’s Taylor Lautner). That showdown ends up leading to a ridiculous brawl that night at an eighties-themed party at Feder’s house. Then there are little subplots with Feder’s son trying to get a girl; a good-looking homosexual trainer catching the eye of all the wives; a well-endowed ballet teacher who manages to bring out half the town’s male population to a children’s ballet recital; the return David Spade’s Marcus’ bruiser, lovechild son; and the drugged-up bus driver, who keeps entering scenes with zippy slapstick routines. There are also recurring bit characters, such as the toddler played by Kaleo Elam who’s scatological shaking seems built the world of viral meme gifs.
I didn’t find the Elam stuff very funny, nor the repeated attempts to make something of the burp-sneeze-fart triage that the men in the movie aspire to execute, but I did laugh at a number of other gags, like Colin Quinn’s quips as a middle aged man who still works the neighborhood ice cream stand. It all amounts to a steady stream of attempted laughs. The gags, one liners, situations, and slapstick come at a relentless pace, so much so that even if you only laugh at 40 percent of the jokes, you walk away feeling like you laughed throughout the movie. It’s a formula the sequel doesn’t share with the first film. The dramatic fat has been cut, the efforts to say something sweet about family life quelled. Instead we just get the only think we hope for in the first place, a mindless sort of good time.