Believe it or not, Grown Ups 2 is better than at least one other movie in existence, and that movie is Grown Ups. The first time we paid for Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James to take a vacation together, the movie was strung together with plot and forced "emotional" moments that attempted to trick us into thinking it was a real film, written by humans and everything. In Grown Ups 2, bolstered by the success of the first one, they've done away with nearly all of that. This movie is a delivery system for visual gags of every possible type, laced around a plot so thin it was probably rejected by the Saved By The Bell writer's room for not having enough stakes.
Almost none of the jokes are funny, of course. They might be funny if you saw them in real life-- that deer has a bra stuck in its antlers! Your buddy David Spade is in a tire rolling downhill! Chocolate soft serve looks like poop!-- but movies don't work that way, especially when populated with people who we know for a fact can be funny when they actually try. There's no setup for any of the physical humor, no stakes to make embarrassing moments actually matter, and no effort to liven up or refresh jokes that are repeated four or five times in the film-- Nick Swardson getting hit with something, any number of characters projectile vomiting, and of course the "burp snart," a combination burp-sneeze-fart that really doesn't get funnier as it goes along. But Grown Ups 2 is at least honest about its complete lack of ambition, and if you're paying to see those kinds of jokes-- and by now you surely know what you're in for-- you at least won't be distracted by the presence of anything smarter.
Adam Sandler's Lenny, having relocated his family from Hollywood to his hometown, is throwing a last-day-of-school party. His buddies-- Chris Rock's beleaguered dad with a daughter who wants to start dating, Kevin James's beleaguered dad with two idiot kids, David Spade's beleaguered horn dog who just found out he had a 13-year-old bully of a son-- are helping him throw the party. Pulling that off somehow involves crossing paths with a bunch of angry fraternity brother led by Taylor Lautner, shoving Spade inside that rolling tire, ogling the instructor at a little girl's ballet recital, driving a school bus, falling off an elliptical machine in the middle of K-Mart and teaching Sandler's kid to kick a football. There are also digressions to see the wives (Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello and Salma Hayek) ogle their aerobics instructor, and when the adults get sick of working they toss the story over to the kids, who have their own share of uninteresting conflicts to work through. At the end there's a big 80s-themed party and a giant fight on the lawn. The deer who pees on Sandler's face in the beginning comes back to gore Taylor Lautner in the crotch, the circle of life truly completed.
With all of the leads firmly on autopilot, it's the random guest stars who wind up getting the meager laughs, and none more so than Lautner. Yeah, I know. The dopey kid from Twilight somehow finds his niche as the amped-up frat brother who does front flips for the hell of it, channeling a kind of young Tom Cruise energy and fully understanding his role as the butt of the joke. Shaquille O'Neal is also surprisingly fun as a local cop, wearing a ridiculous wig that's one of the few visual gags in the movie that actually works. And as always there are tons of SNL alums used to varying effect; Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows and Jon Lovitz have a decent moment or two, while Cheri Oteri does a lot with a completely ridiculous role as Sandler's former flame. The best scene in the movie is easily one in which James heads to a cheerleader car wash, only to get the scrub down from a bunch of male hot-pants wearing SNL alums-- Will Forte, Bobby Moynihan, Taran Killam, Paul Brittain and the Lonely Island guys. Watching Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone bite down together on a dollar bill is to remember what it's like when gifted comedians are given subpar material and actually attempt to make it better.
It's hard to think of a comedian who has turned his late-career laziness into a successful franchise, so credit to Sandler, I guess, for figuring out how to get us to pay for his next beach house. Grown Ups 2 isn't as demoralizing as Grown Ups mostly because we knew what we were in for, but partly because it at least embraces its awfulness. It's basically Adam Sandler shrugging his shoulders and saying "Well, we fooled you once, so feel free to come back and get fooled again."