The toughest part of writing a review for Grown Ups 2 is that there are no words to adequately describe just how terrible this sequel is. Inexplicably – because I should have known better -- this came as a surprise; I sat down in a theater whose patrons were split more or less evenly between grumbling critics and excited civilians, and I chose to embrace optimism. And boy howdy, was I wrong. But more than just astonishingly bad, the first sequel in Adam Sandler’s career is truly insipid -- a pointless, disjointed assembly of dangerous values and dehumanizing behavior masked as good old-fashioned, raunchy fun.
Sandler again plays Lenny, who in the three years (!) since the original film moved back to his Connecticut hometown, where he lives near his three best friends Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock) and Marcus (David Spade). Readjusting to small-town life, Lenny has to deal with small-town problems, like the urinating deer his daughter let into the house, and an overdue showdown with the bruiser (Steve Austin) who bullied him in high school. Meanwhile, at the same time Lenny’s wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek) proposes they have a fourth child, an old flame informs Marcus he has a son named Braden (Alexander Ludwig), even as Eric and Kurt juggle the simultaneous responsibilities of fatherhood and keeping their marital flame alive. But when a face-off against local frat boys Andy (Taylor Lautner) and Milo (Milo Ventimiglia) starts a turf war that threatens to ruin their party to commemorate the beginning of summer, Lenny & Co. are forced to decide how far they will go to protect themselves, their families and the community that brought them together.
That synopsis, to be honest, only approximates the sequence of events that unfolds in Grown Ups 2, because there is no actual plot, and nothing really occurs. Although it was established that Lenny was incredibly wealthy in the first film, evidently his blue-collar buddies have nothing else to do during the day, evidenced by their availability and willingness to jump on a school bus he commandeered and trek down to the local watering hole – that is, after dropping by K-Mart for a lengthy, pointless shopping excursion. I’m genuinely unsure if I’ve ever seen a film that was less interested in creating dramatic conflict for its characters, or at least conflict that might provoke a second of deeper thought after the single scene in which it’s introduced, discussed perfunctorily, and resolved (or ignored).
I have no delusions about what the movie aims to do; I understand that although Marcus is faced with his first parenting challenge, Grown Ups 2 is not going to offer a substantive exploration of absentee fatherhood, gratifying reconciliation or even modest character growth. But the degree to which the film indulges and even glorifies the behavior of four protagonists of this film is shocking, and downright inexcusable, even under the veneer of the dumbest possible entertainment. For example, in the burgeoning relationship mentioned above, Marcus drops Braden off at school five minutes after meeting him, lies about where he’s going, forgets to pick him up, and then asks his son to “cut him a little slack,” as if 17 years of neglect followed by the laziest and most disinterested parenting effort ever chronicled should qualify as “no big deal.”
Eric, on the other hand, is evidently a mama’s boy, and he’s been sneaking off to watch soap operas and eat her home cooking – again, instead of, you know, work. That he is deceiving his wife Sally (Mario Bello) in order to go spend time with Mama is forgivable, but Sally’s response to his rationale – that his mother always listens to him and makes him feel like a king – is to apologize for taking care of their children, vow to pamper him in the way he deserves, and then prove that she’s totally cool with him ogling their daughter’s voluptuous ballet teacher by driving him to a car wash run by hot teenage girls. The punchline is that the female cheerleaders are replaced by their male counterparts, who hump the sedan like Tawny Kitaen, repulsing Eric and therefore putting him in his place, but for God’s sake, is it even remotely possible for these four small-town jerkoffs to have to make any kind of change or show growth?
Further to that end, it’s difficult to think of another recent movie in which its female characters were treated more disrespectfully. Again, I wasn’t looking for Grown Ups 2 to provide a beacon of empowerment or some profound tribute to the power and importance of women in society, but the movie doesn’t even demonstrate the most basic sense of human decency toward the four protagonists’ wives, much less the teenagers, college girls and peripheral female character who populate the movie. An early scene assembles all of the wives at an aerobics class, where prior to the start of the workout, a janitor (Jon Lovitz) choreographs a regimen for them that is, to put it mildly, sleazy and objectifying; but even though the film acknowledges that it’s inappropriate, it’s still inappropriate – especially given that Hayek, Bello and Maya Rudolph are enormously gifted actresses who are not deserving of such awful treatment (not that any women are, mind you).
No matter how effortlessly gorgeous Hayek is, or how game she is to join in on this sophomoric “fun,” she shouldn’t be playing a character who’s defined by her “indecipherable” accent and always-on-display cleavage, and who constantly talks about the desire to have a baby no matter how poorly timed or inappropriate the circumstances are for that discussion. And Bello was in A History of Violence, Beautiful Boy and The Cooler, among many, many other pedigreed dramas; she can’t possibly need money badly enough to subject herself to the kinds of humiliating inhumanities her character endures here.
While Sandler has proved time and again that he is willing to churn out literally anything and sell it to audiences – who, depressingly, gobble it up with glee – there is no one person to blame for this disastrous film. It’s a project so incomprehensible that it makes Lethal Weapon 4 look like a carefully considered, painstakingly executed piece of art, and that’s just unforgivable. There can be no justification for the laziness and indifference of the makers of this film, because I cannot understand how any audience, much less themselves first, would even tolerate the incompetent, sub-moronic spectacle that resulted from that lack of effort.
Unlike any other film in 2013, Grown Ups 2 has broken me, crushed my spirit, and rendered me speechless about a medium I am constantly inspired to discuss. But when its main character’s journey only feels complete when he learns how to burp, sneeze and fart in sequence, the film sort of does all of the work of reviewing itself, because any one of them offers a perfect encapsulation of its virtues: offensive hot air, signifying less than nothing.
Grown Ups 2 opens today.