In Defense Of "Grown Ups 2"... Sort Of

Despite the knee-jerk reaction from most of the critical community, “Grown Ups 2” isn’t nearly the worst comedy of 2013. While that probably says more about this year’s releases than it does the quality of “Grown Ups 2” (I’m looking at you, “Movie 43” and “Scary Movie V”), the fact remains that the film isn’t terrible. I’m not sure that anyone could intelligibly argue that Adam Sandler’s films have been getting better in recent years, but they’re certainly getting weirder (see Al Pacino’s remarkably bizarre but surprisingly enjoyable turn in “Jack And Jill”). And there’s at least a little something to be said for an authentically deranged pseudo-family film like “Grown Ups 2,” which – believe it or not – is the first sequel that Sandler has participated in. Ever.

While 2010’s “Grown Ups” was a fairly abysmal and frequently unfunny exercise in working holidays (probably fun to make, not at all fun to watch), its sequel is actually sort of compelling in several respects. First of all, it features no less than eighteen current or former “Saturday Night Live” cast members and writers, which is certainly some kind of record. The only noticeable absence is Rob Schneider, which for many moviegoers will make the experience that much more palatable. Between the sheer number of SNL-ers, the typical group of Sandler-ites (Allen Covert, Peter Dante, etc.) and a few extended cameos (Shaquille O’Neal is particularly amusing in his role as a cop), the picture is a never-ending parade of recognizable faces that should at least keep comedy fans on their toes.

More interestingly, the resolutely threadbare narrative actually works in the film’s favor. The core group of friends (Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, and David Spade) spends a 24-hour period planning for an 80s-themed party, getting into trouble along the way. That’s it. There’s very little of the hackneyed heartfelt nonsense that usually creeps its way into Sandler’s films, allowing the general weirdness of the picture to stand out that much more. By not trying to force feed the audience some unearned message about the importance of family or friends, the comedy (which, admittedly, bombs just as often as it works) is able to breathe, unhindered by things like plot and characterization. No sarcasm here. Whether it was intentional or accidental, the lack of a story helps the film.

Of course, that means that as movie, it’s not a particularly good one. There are a handful of cringe-inducing performances, Salma Hayek being the worst offender. Moreover, few of the characters’ actions make any sense, be it in the context of Hollywood clichés, real life, or anything even resembling reality. But no one is buying a ticket for “Grown Ups 2” with the hopes of getting a leg up on the 2013 Oscar race. Did it make me laugh? Yes. A lot more frequently than I expected to. In the face of an offensively awful opening scene in which Sandler and his family are urinated on by a deer, I was sure I would regret the 90 minutes that followed. But as soon as Kevin James’ character traipsed onscreen to the tune of some blissfully stupid jokes involving his son’s apparent lack of intelligence, I was at peace.

Am I being too charitable? My expectations were at basement level, but now that I’ve actually seen it, I expect the film to kill with its target audience, and maybe even win over a few reluctant moviegoers, as well. It does what it needs to do and ends before becoming too tedious, which is more than I can say for most of this summer’s releases. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a post-2000 Adam Sandler movie should find something to like here (Chris Rock and Steve Buscemi are always worth watching), and if not, it still serves as something as a history lesson for “Saturday Night Live” buffs, bringing together several different generations of writers and cast members. But that “Grown Ups 2” didn’t bring me pain is reason enough to celebrate, right?

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: July 12, 2013
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: Dennis Dugan
Screenwriter: Fred Wolf, Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Maria Bello, Nick Swardson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity)