Grown Ups 2 opens with Lenny Feder (Adam Sandler), the Hollywood super agent who has gone back to live in his rustic hometown, waking up in his tasteful McMansion to see that a deer has wandered into his bedroom. The deer then says hello by urinating in his face. This is the film’s way of letting us know that the comedy is going to be in-your-face.
The first Grown Ups (2010), which critics unfairly trashed, was Adam Sandler edging into middle age right along with his fans, and doing it with an enjoyably self-deprecating finesse. In its slapdash way, the picture was Sandler’s autobiographical look at what an infantile anarchist has to give up to become a husband and father.
In certain ways, Grown Ups 2 marks a return to classically Sandlerian infantile anarchy. Lenny and his buddies — the genially sharp-witted Kurt (Chris Rock), the put-upon mama’s boy Eric (Kevin James), and the seedy eternal bachelor Marcus (David Spade) — are as beleaguered as ever by the demands of family (even Marcus now has a long-lost, switchblade-wielding delinquent son he’s trying to connect with). It’s not just that they can’t let loose any more; it’s that whatever they do, in the eyes of their wives, it is never enough. The film doesn’t present this as unfair: The women, like Maya Rudolph’s no-bull Deanne and Salma Hayek’s high-maintenance Roxanne, are treated as hip, smart matriarchs who are probably right to be constantly whipping their husbands into shape. But when the guys hijack a school bus from the local deranged bus driver, the slapstick antics they get into are like a purging of everything that they’ve been repressing.
They proceed to take that bus on a joyride of damage. Marcus gets wedged into a truck tire that goes speeding and bouncing through town, Eric keeps doing his ”burp-snart” (a combination burp, sneeze, and fart), and the bus driver gets treated like the corpse in Weekend at Bernie’s. For a while, Grown Ups 2 has the lunatic-stunt tone of one of the Jackass films, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s a decisively funnier movie than the first Grown Ups. After a while, our heroes run into a pack of frat boys at the local swimming hole, and the impromptu insult contest that goes down between the fascist college jerks and the flabby, gone-to-seed older schlubs is — how shall I put this? — terrifically abusive. (Marcus: ”Kid, why are you acting so crazy?” Frat-house lout: ”Did Betty White just call you crazy?”) The frat boys are led by a hilariously smug Taylor Lautner, who punctuates each insult by bumping chests with one of his fellow dudes and shouting ”Boom! — that just happened.” Yet through all the psycho silliness, we feel the men’s pain at the youthful vitality that’s deserted them. When they’re forced to jump naked off the reservoir cliff, their testicles hitting the water with a punishing smack, it’s a metaphor for what life as sensitive and emasculated New Dads is doing to them.
I don’t want to make Grown Ups 2 sound like more than the high-spirited formula lark it is. The characters are still just likable Johnny two-notes. (And why has Rob Schneider been dropped from the pack?) But Sandler, working with his regular director, Dennis Dugan (the first Grown Ups, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, etc.), has figured out how to age his brand on screen in just the right way. The movie is punctuated with peppery side characters, like Tim Meadows’ fulminating bald nerd Malcolm and his Urkel-gone-hip-hop son (Kamil McFadden), and it ends with a 1980s-themed blowout bachanaal that is so goofily devoted to that era, it made me realize that Adam Sandler may be as obsessive about the ’80s as Quentin Tarantino is about the ’70s. For Sandler, it’s not just when he grew up. It’s the garden of idiotic innocence, something that, in Grown Ups 2, he is helping to keep alive. B