Review: 'Grown Ups 2'

As the Happy Madison production credits roll, signifying the start of "Grown Ups 2", it's easy to find yourself thinking back to the good old days. You remember that era when the Adam Sandler movies were funny, and when one could sense a new comedic voice forming? Those were nice moments, and for about half a second you're in a good place, due to the beloved films that formed the Happy Madison name. Then, well, "Grown Ups 2" happens and you realize that even good things come to an end, and when they do it's usually with a giant thud.

The opening that manages to erase all goodwill? A buck pees on the entire Feder family for about five good minutes. Animal urination, it seems, is to be the opening gambit for "Grown Ups 2," and what a worthy beachhead it is. This scene can't help but make one wonder why the giant peeing buck didn't simply gore the entire family, turning the movie into more of a digital short, but alas, there's 100 minutes left, and no goring in sight. This is an ill-conceived move in the same way that tying your shoes together at the start of marathon would be. You wouldn't make it very far, and you'd have some serious scrapes on your knees to show for your stupidity.

However, to be fair, after that initial nonsense transpires, "Grown Ups 2" isn't so much actively terrible as it is just plain old not good. There's a difference, and if 2013 has taught me anything at all it's that we've got to differentiate between massively awful efforts like "Scary Movie 5" and "Movie 43" versus the merely bland offerings of a film like "Grown Ups 2". Indeed, if truly horrible comedies are a plate of rancid meat, "Grown Ups 2" is a plate of gruel. You don't want to have to survive on gruel for any length of time, but if you're hungry enough? You'll eat some gruel. You'll eat it right up. That's "Grown Ups 2" for you, and that's my poster quote for the movie. Please prepare the commercials.

Blandness aside, there are around a dozen chuckles in "Grown Ups 2". These aren't full-throated laughs so much as an admittance that the film was at least attempting a punchline, and that the effort wasn't completely unworthy. But credit given where credit is due, these smirks form the best parts of the film, especially paired with the odd sweetness of the franchise. Yes, "Grown Ups 2" is a largely sentimental movie, which is a strange thing, especially given the unorthodox route they take to pull at the heartstrings. Add all of this together and you end up with a sequel that's every so often funny, sometimes sweet, and featuring the best performance Taylor Lautner has ever given (no, seriously). Certainly "Grown Ups 2" could have been far worse. Faint praise to be sure, but it's all they can manage given the rather largish constraints on the entire enterprise.

Those constraints include the lukewarm portions of "Grown Ups 2," moments forming the vast majority of the movie, filled with happenings that are neither funny nor particular interesting. It's here where "Grown Ups 2" offers up no real plot to speak of, just all of the fellas (Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin James) wandering around town. Sometimes their children wander around, and to switch things up occasionally the wives will wander around. Regardless of who is wandering around, you can expect plenty of lame physical comedy, a few pokes in the dark at a potential funny angle that they never quite get around to, and other moments that are not so much offensive as they are completely innocuous. There's a scene where a pervert gets a ladies workout class to do his bidding, and another scene where a sixth-grade girlfriend to one of the guys becomes obsessed. These efforts pass like a wind on the night, barely noticeable or worthy of contemplation.

Unfortunately, the terrible parts of "Grown Ups 2" do present themselves about as consistently as the chuckles. Oh, the pee, you will see plenty of that action, plus simulated poop thrown in for good measure. And the Pièce de résistance of "Grown Ups 2," a creation they are particularly proud of, is the triple combo of someone (usually Kevin James) burping, farting, and sneezing in rapid succession. This is just as impressive and hilarious as you'd expect, which is to say it's wildly stupid and misguided. Even more frustratingly, they go back to the well on it about a dozen times, as if they've discovered the greatest invention in comedy since the slide whistle. Clearly, that's awesomely annoying, especially when combined with vomit, more vomit, and then a pee in a pool chaser (as opposed to deer pee). All of this is followed up by a guy being cross-eyed (which is the entirety of the gag). I don't know which four-year-old wrote these jokes, but I sure hope he doesn't find future work.

Should a gal or fella buy a ticket to "Grown Ups 2"? No, probably not, unless said person enjoyed the first edition, which is about the same in terms of a complete lack of substance. It's not a particularly watchable film, though it doesn't actually hate its audience either, as has become the custom in some of our worst comedies. Yep, "Grown Ups 2" is gruel, and occasionally grueling, but rarely cruel. A movie of fools, by fools, for fools, "Grown Ups 2" is easily forgotten, which isn't as bad a feature as you'd think.

SCORE: 4.4 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and was always grown up, even as a child.