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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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The cast may be all smiles, but there's not much joy to be had in "Grown Ups 2," now playing.
The cast may be all smiles, but there's not much joy to be had in "Grown Ups 2," now playing.

"Grown Ups 2" somehow finds a new low for Sandler and company

I have a habit of perhaps getting a bit long-winded with some of my reviews (if I’m going to say someone’s million-dollar creation is or is not worth $10 and two hours of your time, however, I feel the need to explain myself in full). So let me put my feelings toward "Grown Ups 2" as clearly and as upfront as possible.

Don’t.

See.

This.

Movie.

Actually, I hesitate to use the word "movie" to describe this middling comedian mid-life crisis simulator. Sure, it’s technically a series of shots projected rapidly onto a screen to give the impression of a moving picture. But anything an audience member goes to a movie for – story, entertainment, emotion, mere distraction – is nowhere to be found in "Grown Ups 2."

Jumping off three years from the first film, "Grown Ups 2" tries the daring storytelling approach of not having a story whatsoever. The closest thing we get is our four man-children (Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade) square off against a posse of aggressive frat bros.

Otherwise, it’s just the guys meandering around a small town, running into their real-world buddies (Dan Patrick, Shaq, pretty much every "SNL" alum whose film career flamed out) and causing desperately unfunny shenanigans. No motivations. No momentum. No point. It’d almost be impressive how little happens in "Grown Ups 2" if it wasn’t so insulting.

Other potential subplots and arcs pop up – Sandler’s oldest son has eyes for the cute girl in school, an obsessive woman from Sandler’s past still loves him, Rock’s wife (Maya Rudolph) forgets their anniversary – but the script doesn’t develop them or tie them into a story as much as it just throws them into a Gravitron amusement park ride and tries to make sense of the puke-filled aftermath.

The bros (led by Taylor Lautner in a role that could have been funny if he wasn’t channeling one of Forks’ many forests) eventually return for the climactic ’80s party fight scene so the guys can learn a half-baked … no, quarter-baked lesson about standing up for yourself.

The fellas also come to the conclusion that though they may be old, they’re still totally cool, fun and relevant. They sound like they’re trying to convince themselves of this fact, almost as though Sandler’s not-quite-successful streak of recent films ("That’s My Boy," "Jack and Jill") has caused self-confidence to dip amongst the Happy Madison brethren.

Sandler is the main recipient of the cheap lesson in bravery. Meanwhile, Spade discovers he has an angry bearded son, and James is stealing away to his mother’s house because his marriage to Maria Bello is cooling off. Not that we see any of their marital problems. That would require devoting time to character development rather than another artlessly tossed-in cameo or limply staged gag, likely involving deer urine (of which there are two in the opening five minutes).

It should be noted that despite James’ lying, lazy, childish ways, Bello takes the blame and is the one who vows to change. She even rewards James for ogling a sexy dance teacher by taking him to a cheerleader car wash because in Sandler’s world, having the self-control of a Cro-Magnon man just what guys do. Women should just accept it.

Amusingly enough, Sandler gets annoyed and flustered when he discovers his wife’s (Salma Hayek, entering every scene cleavage first) new yoga instructor is handsome. Double standards; what are those?

"Grown Ups 2" doesn’t think very highly of women in general. If you’re not a physically perfect coed dressed like you just got off the set of a Maxim shoot and flaunting perky boobs that the characters and director Dennis Dugan can’t wait to fix their eyes upon, you’re the butt of a joke. Then again, considering our immature, noxious leads are meant to be relatable, I’d say "Grown Ups 2" doesn’t think very highly of the entire human population.

The lack of discernable effort extends into the comedy. The humor dished out by the three (THREE!) writers – Sandler, Fred Wolf and Tim Herlihy – would need to mature by leaps and bounds to simply qualify as juvenile. Every bodily function is dredged up for lifeless gross-out gags. Besides one or two decent lines from Rock, the dialogue’s version of clever is calling a mustached cop "Magnum P.U." Every pratfall and slapstick gag is somehow poorly set up but yet still predictable.

The movie constantly settles for the laziest possible punch line, and Dugan’s amateurish direction barely bothers to hide this fact, barely mustering any enthusiasm and energy for the dull material. Seemingly sensing this, the cast (most notably Hayek) oversells every joke. The result is tragically desperate, like a doctor continuing to do CPR despite the fact that his patient died hours ago.  

And while not wishing ill-will upon the man, I’m not convinced Sandler flunky Nick Swardson ("A Haunted House," "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star") isn’t on a mission to single-handedly eliminate the concept of comedy from the planet. I’ve had lung collapses that got more laughter out of me than Swardson and his relentlessly infantile mugging.

I’ll admit that I’ve never been a huge fan of Sandler’s brand of comedy, but I’ve enjoyed some of his stuff in the past, like "Happy Gilmore" and "50 First Dates" (I’d even call "Click" passable). His latest efforts, however, have been experiments in how much money he can wring from his audience with the least amount of effort.

"Grown Ups 2" marks a new low, a film that is arguably harmful to Hollywood and certainly harmful to anyone in the audience with any need for their brain cells. It’s a lazy and cynical film from people who think you are stupid and will watch anything with their faces on it.

Prove them wrong. Don’t see it. 

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