After years of being one of the very few film critics to consistently praise the filmography of Adam Sandler, the streak finally ended with 2011's godawful Razzie darling Jack & Jill. I figured Jack & Jill to be a bad fluke and thought for sure Sandler would return to form with his next live-action film opposite Andy Samberg, That's My Boy.
Not so coincidentally, both Jack & Jill and That's My Boy were box-office disappointments with the latter barely recouping half its $70 million production budget. I think I joined a good number of folks in wondering if Sandler had finally snuffed out his comic fire after all these years of box-office successes despite consistently negative reviews.
Then, Sandler started to show a spark again with the surprisingly satisfying animated feature Hotel Transylvania, which for my money was worthy of an animated feature Oscar nomination over some of the other dreck that was nominated last year.
Now, we're looking at Sandler's return to live-action where he also returns to his last major box-office hit, Grown Ups. Grown Ups 2 is a return to the Sandler I know and love and, while it's destined to be ravaged by the critics, it's also a return to the type of man-child antics that has made Sandler the man-child America loves.
If you've always hated Sandler's films, there's absolutely nothing in Grown Ups 2 that will change your mind. The first Grown Ups won over audiences despite being universally panned, though that's not particularly a new thing for Sandler. The film was one of Sandler's more successful attempts at weaving together his juvenile humor with the fact that he's now a middle-aged husband and father and not quite as convincing pulling off the little boy shtick without coming across as rather creepy.
Grown Ups 2 is not without its flaws, but who really goes to an Adam Sandler film for artistic perfection? Grown Ups 2 is unquestionably a better film than its predecessor - it's funnier, more cohesive and more consistently entertaining throughout its 101-minute running time.
The film kicks off with Sandler's Lenny having returned with his wife (Salma Hayek) and kids to his hometown. His friends are back, of course, including Kurt (Chris Rock), Eric (Kevin James) and Marcus (David Spade) and all are saddled with fundamental life issues that are woven loosely and gently into the fabric of the film.
Lenny's dealing with a wife who wants to have a baby and kids with a garden variety of typical kid problems that serve as dad's impetus to grow up but have fun doing it.
Kurt is still married to Deanne (Maya Rudolph) and the two have one daughter (China Anne McClain) who is on the verge of dating and one still hilarious baby who seems to have some of the film's best scenes.
Eric is a bit challenged by marital problems with Sally (Maria Bello) and spending way too much time with his mom (Georgia Engel).
Finally, Marcus has found out he has a now rather surly son (Alexander Ludwig) who pops in for a visit.
Now then, I should probably confess that I likely just spent more time explaining the film's storyline than Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy and Fred Wolf did writing it. Grown Ups 2 continues Sandler's long-standing history of blending juvenile humor with "everyone's okay" life lessons where friends and family matter and kindness wins out. The film is more fartsy than heartsy this time around, though Sandler does tug on the heartstrings at times and there's a terrific scene between he and the obligatory former bully that nailed just the right tone.
The usual Sandler regulars make their appearances here ranging from the lesser known Allen Covert (one of my favorites!) to the always offbeat and willing to do anything Nick Swardson to Steve Buscemi, Jon Lovitz, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, and Peter Dante. As also always true, Sandler tosses in a few newbie cameos ranging from one Twilight dude who still can't act to one basketball legend who never could hit free throws to a surprisingly solid stone cold former wrestler.
Longtime Sandler Collaborator director Dennis Dugan is also here, though given all the familiar faces it seems strange that Rob Schneider is nowhere to be found. There's a campy, kitschy quality to Grown Ups 2 that if you're paying attention you realize is quite intentional given the film's relentless devotion to 80's music and an 80's vibe include an all-out 80's fest toward's film's end.
There are certainly lines that fall flat and Sandler has so sprinkled the film with celebrity cameos that it's almost inevitable that some of them feel ridiculously out of place. There are also too many unnecessary story threads, most notably Cheri Oteri's appearance as a Lenny-obsessed former "girlfriend" whose attempts at nerdish swooning would have likely been more convincingly played by Molly Shannon. Alexander Ludwig is also devoid of comic energy as Marcus's previously unknown and now borderline psychotic son. There's one scene where Ludwig's Braden suddenly shifts and it's both achingly unconvincing and a reminder of Spade's acting range that goes from sarcasm to sarcastic jerk.
Sandler's films have never really been about cinematic perfection, though the actor has certainly challenged himself quite successfully at times. In fact, I had to chuckle at one point in the film when I thought about Maya Rudolph watching this film with her husband, noted director P.T. Anderson. It was Anderson who also gave Sandler one of his most challenging and convincing dramatic roles in Punch-Drunk Love.
Grown Ups 2 won't please a good majority of the film critics, but it's not a film for the film critics. It's a film for the legion of Sandler fans who adore his juvenile antics and his ability to make feel good, silly, and heartfelt films surrounded by a large number of people whom he's called "friend" for a good majority of his acting life.
Welcome back, Adam. I missed ya'.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic