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Ebiri on Grown-Ups 2: At This Point, Is Every New Adam Sandler Movie His Worst One?

You'd think a movie that includes a scene where Taylor Lautner's crotch is eaten by a giant deer couldn't be all bad. But you'd be wrong. It's hard to do justice to the absurd laziness of Grown Ups 2. Director Dennis Dugan and star Adam Sandler’s follow-up to their 2010 hit, this sequel is about a group of grown men — played by Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, and David Spade — who long to regress amid the mounting responsibilities and concerns of adulthood. (The original film also featured Rob Schneider. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but his presence is sorely missed here.)

The first Grown Ups was pretty lazy, too, but at least it had a throughline — a 4th of July weekend that reunited these characters after they’d spent years apart, as well as a variety of parenting- and marriage-related challenges that helped move the story along. In Grown Ups 2, which is set on the last day of school, our heroes are now all living in the same small town together, and everybody’s pretty happy, so there’s little to motivate the action. It makes the first movie look like The Maltese Falcon.

Look, obviously, Grown Ups 2 wasn’t made for critics. But I consider myself something of an Adam Sandler fan; I even liked last year’s That’s My Boy, the dud whose failure may well have helped lay the groundwork for this, the actor’s first sequel. That much-derided film was a welcome throwback to the disreputable Sandler of yore, who was once at his best when he went broad, playing surreal jerks and man-children. For all his attempts to cultivate a softer, more Everyman-ish vibe (attempts that have been enormously lucrative, mind you), he seems adrift when he doesn’t have a shtick. And he’s more adrift than ever in Grown Ups 2, more a tour guide than a character, (sleep-)walking through the movie. Actually, all four leads are sleepwalking here, basically playing straight men to the dancing cops and creepy gym teachers and loser neighbors who populate this town.

As usual, this setup might have worked if any of it was funny. But whenever something threatens to make us laugh, Sandler and Dugan swat it away with their hammer-handed approach: A bit involving Jon Lovitz as a pervy janitor leering at our heroes’ wives during yoga class starts off promisingly, but is quickly undone as the joke is repeatedly underlined. (Are they actually worried there might be people in the audience who don’t get it?) An initially funny gag involving Sandler regular Nick Swardson as a strung-out school bus driver becomes a dead horse pretty quickly once he randomly tags along with our heroes, essentially becoming something of a fifth male lead — presumably to bring some comic relief to a quartet of leads who themselves aren’t even trying to do anything funny.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There is a pointless bit involving David Spade and a giant tire that goes on forever. And every once in a while the movie stops so that we can be treated to a “burpsnart” — a combination burp, sneeze, and fart perfected by Kevin James's character. (I don’t mean it’s a running gag. I mean the movie almost literally stops — presumably because nobody could be bothered to work the burpsnart into the plot.) It seems Sandler and his team don’t develop gags anymore; they just kill them dead by either repeating them endlessly, dragging them on, or letting them hang there without any context.

All that said, there are some minor incidental pleasures to be had with Lautner’s character. Freed from all that Twilight brooding, the actor is surprisingly funny and spirited as the leader of a bunch of cocky, jacked-up frat boys who repeatedly taunt our heroes. Dugan and Sandler’s penchant for letting gags run on for way too long actually kind of works in these scenes. Lautner’s dynamism raises the film’s energy level whenever he shows up. Maybe he should do more comedy. And maybe Adam Sandler, who’s just given us the worst film of his career, should take a well-deserved break. In fact, it appears he’s already doing so.

Photo: Tracy Bennett/ CTMG