I just want to make it clear I have never voluntarily seen a Kevin James movie before I watched Grown Ups. I feel it's important that I disclose this in order to maintain my integrity as a movie buff and as a human being.
Now, I know what you're thinking: How could I have missed Paul Blart: Mall Cop, or that historically important gay rights film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry? Unfortunately, digging through James' past oeuvre is a bit above my pay grade, so let's get right to Grown Ups 2, a film that made me want to shoot myself in the face.
In the first Grown Ups, five middle-aged men (James, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider) reunite at the funeral of their old basketball coach, and decide to spend a weekend reconnecting at Lenny Feder's (Sandler) lake house. They all bring along their wives and children, and various lame gags and general poor taste ensues. The sequel takes place three years later. All the characters -- except for Schneider, who apparently had the decency not to inflict himself on the poor souls who already had to watch him in the original -- have now moved back to their home town to spend even more time being not funny together.
Unlike the first film, in which the hint of a plot was discernible among the many bunion jokes, Grown Ups 2 entirely fails to justify its reason for existing. Grown Ups was a big financial success, so after Sandler's later project That's My Boy bombed, GU2 was announced almost immediately. (It is so clear that everyone in this movie is doing it for the money, it's not even funny).
The lack of prep time could explain why the film (which Sandler co-wrote) jumps from stupid scene to stupid scene without any narrative thread holding it all together. The climax of the movie, which kind of appears out of nowhere, comes when Lenny throws an '80s-themed party for the entire town. I guess the writers thought that dressing these guys up in clothes from another decade would mask the film's desperation, but in fact the ploy only enhances it.
Sandler and the rest of his merry gang are in a weird spot, career-wise. None of them belong to the Apatow bunch -- Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill -- or to the club that includes Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Grown Ups and its sequel feel like a feeble attempt to cement these five comedians as another beloved comedy clique. Unfortunately, they aren't nearly outrageous or clever enough to pull it off. When they rib each other in the movie (fat jokes, mostly), I could make out a faint echo of a 40 Year Old Virgin-style insult session struggling to emerge, before the scenes give up and go die slowly in a corner. I don't know if these guys are too self-conscious, too lazy or too vain to come up with proper zingers about themselves and each other. Whatever the reason, the half-hearted dialogue they spew instead is just painful.
Presumably, the target audience for an Adam Sandler comedy (or a David Spade comedy, or a Kevin James comedy) is aimed squarely at 14-year-old boys. Why, then, do both Grown Ups films have an unexpectedly gloopy center that oozes family values lectures about the "things that really matter" all over the sophomoric, misogynistic pile of fart jokes that is the rest of the film? Both movies end on a reminder that family and friends are life's real treasures -- a Mr. Rodgers-approved message seemingly at odds with a scene earlier in Grown Ups 2, when a group of women (including basically mute characters played by Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph and Maria Bello) jiggle and slap their own butts for Jon Lovitz' viewing pleasure.
Of course, all the actors involved in Grown Ups 2 are aging. They've all got wives and kids now, their careers have seen better days, they are squarely unhip. So this movie isn't actually for 14-year-old boys at all, but for their fathers, who remember Sandler, Rock and Spade from their glory days on Saturday Night Live. The cast's biggest fans have gotten old, and this film reflects that. But the requisite vomit, urine, farting and dick jokes that seem to be contractually obligated to accompany this type of film make it a chore for anyone with a mental age above the low double digits to watch.
All that being said, there are maybe four decent jokes in the picture, which runs 101 minutes. Taylor Lautner (the Twilight werewolf) shows up as an overly aggressive frat boy who tangles with Spade, James, Rock and Sandler. Lautner is aware that he's mocking his own public image as a hot dumb jock, and he plays it up for all he's worth. The only problem is that whenever he appears in any non-Twilight movie, I can't help but wish he'd turn into a wolf already. It's my personal belief that pretty much any film can be improved by an abrupt addition of completely unnecessary lycanthropy. That's my dream script: Taylor Lautner suddenly morphs into a monster and tears the cast limb from limb. It would certainly make Grown Ups 3 improbable. Now, there's a happy ending.
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