Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Cinema File #224: "Grown Ups 2" Review

Recently I reviewed the independent comedy film InAPPropriate Comedy, written and directed by Shamwow pitchman Vince Offer, which re-defined terribleness for a new generation. It was a movie so bad that relative to all the racism and homophobia trying to pass for humor, the single best part of the whole thing was the presence of Deuce Bigalow himself, Rob Schneider. Walking into Grown Ups 2, the sequel to the prototypical lackluster Adam Sandler lazy comedy Grown Ups, it is interesting to note that while Schneider was willing to be in the movie with Flirty Harry, Blackass, and The Amazing Racist, he was for some reason unwilling to appear in this film. I'm forced to ask, how bad could Grown Ups 2 possibly be that Rob Schneider was too good for it? Well, admittedly its still not as bad as the Slapchop Guy's crapnum opus, as if anything could be, but its still pretty goddamn bad.

Grown Ups 2 is the story of the same guys from Grown Ups 1, all thinly veiled versions for the actors themselves, now living in the small town they visited last time around, engaging in various wacky hijinks while their inexplicably attractive wives cluck at them for 90 minutes like the sort of bad sitcoms at least one of them rose to stardom with. I distinctly remember laughing once at the original Grown Ups, though I can't remember the specific scene, except that it was somewhere near the end, and wasn't even so much a joke as a reaction shot from Chris Rock if I remember correctly. Still, like many Adam Sandler movies not involving his identical twin sister, Grown Ups was at most pleasantly inoffensive even if it wasn't actually funny. It wasn't so much a movie as a movie studio deciding to fund Sandler's vacation with all his friends, and the new Grown Ups feels like more of the same, except that for some reason when they do remember that they're supposed to be making a movie, they've decided to bring a new mean spirited edge to the thing that turns a series that already wasn't very good into something so much worse.

Every once in a while, I like to find moments in movies that serve as metaphors for the production as a whole, as in Transformers 2 for instance, where I genuinely believe that the point of the film is encapsulated by its director in one scene where John Turturro's thong clad ass and testicles are given successive close ups, as if to say that the entire experience of the film is the cinematic equivalent of tea bagging its audience's collective forehead. When I saw The Paperboy, I saw the scene where Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efrons face as a similar metaphor for what that movie did to me for two hours, and strangely enough, the metaphor I see in Grown Ups 2 that comes in literally the first scene of the movie also involves urine assaulting a man's face. The movie begins with Sandler's character asleep in bed as a deer stands over him, and just as you realize the ramifications of this, that these Hollywood dwelling rich douche bags think all small towns are so rural and backwards that deer just routinely walk into people's houses, said deer proceeds to pee right in Sandler's, and by extension all of our faces. Also, I'm pretty sure the deer's dick was CGI, which may or may not have metaphorical significance, but at the very least makes me sad that someone had to build that in a computer.

This moment more than any other sets the tone and says everything you need to know about Grown Ups 2, a movie that subjects it audience to a steady stream of noxious, largely undifferentiated waste in an attempt to drown them in its awfulness. Structurally, it engages in the same self-indulgence of This Is The End, expecting you to invest in characters more for your love of their past work than for any reason given in the actual movie, only here it is attempted with an even less talented and charismatic cast with a much less beloved body of work to draw affection from. The plot is virtually non-existent even compared to the first film, which at least had the hook of big city guys returning to their hometown and learning how its changed, how they've changed, and changing again as a result. Here, the action is reminiscent of Judd Apatow's This Is 40, only again with even less likable characters, each scene so lacking in connective tissue with the next that it might as well be a series of unfunny vignettes about small town life as understood by writers and actors long since removed from any semblance of its reality.

Even as the quality of his movies has severely declined since the 90’s, I’m not one to reflexively dislike any and every Adam Sandler movie as a lot of critics do just because he or his company Happy Madison happen to be involved. At his best, I think he’s the dumb comedy equivalent of Michael Bay, a populist crowd pleaser who happens to often cater to a crowd that I simply rarely wish to be a part of. I gave one of the few marginally positive reviews for That’s My Boy, if that counts for anything, so know that I’m not just indulging in some knee jerk Sandler bias when I say that Grown Ups 2 is almost as bad as his worst film Jack and Jill, if not just as bad. While it lacks the overtly annoying element that Jill represented in that film, it replaces it with a more widespread general dickishness, presenting its characters that were originally merely uninteresting as now downright unlikable, which is compounded by the fact that the only way the movie could feasibly be entertaining is if you like these guys enough to share in the fun they're apparently having on screen. When Shaquille O’Neal is the most likable and charming member of the cast, something is seriously wrong here.

Grown Ups 2 is barely even a movie at all, let alone one worth watching, and even for those who are much bigger Sandler fans than I am, I’d be curious to see if the tone established here might just be a bit too far even for the faithful. I mentioned in my review for RED 2 how much a movie can be elevated by the actors having so much fun making it that the audience essentially shares their joy. Sandler and his buddies seem to be having a lot of fun here on the studio’s dime, but at no point do they seem to care about letting us in on the joke. Any attempt to translate their real-life camaraderie into a mutual experience that the audience can appreciate is half-assed, and as if they were fully aware of this while making it, they go out of their way to fill the vacuum left behind with as much gratuitous sexual imagery as a PG-13 rating will allow, lame SNL and celebrity cameos, and gross out humor meant to substitute for actual jokes and an engaging story. And none of it works. Not one single thing. I can't bring myself to give Rob Schneider the benefit of the doubt that he actually deliberately avoided Grown Ups 2 to save himself from the comedy black hole it represents, but whatever the reason, he definitely managed to dodge a bullet with this one.

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