In most ways, the Hollywood movie industry is so very scientific that its products are predictable. So anyone attending a showing of a sequel of a late Adam Sandler movie should know exactly what he’s getting, right? Well, maybe there are wheels within wheels here.
For some reason, “Grown Ups 2” is a better film than its 2010 predecessor, much better developed, and filmed, by director Dennis Dugan, with the scale of one of Sandler’s bigger films—”The Waterboy,” say—rather than as if it were cheap dross depending on the fading reputation of a once-famous star.
Dugan, who also appears in the film (he was Richie Brockleman in the old “Rockford Files” TV series), has for years directed Sandler movies of uneven quality. “Happy Gilmore,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” and “Jack and Jill” are examples. But just as they haven’t been the films Sandler can look back at with some pride (like “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Reign Over Me”), they also haven’t been big budget jobs with huge casts and scripts that required months of work.
So who could have guessed that “Grown Ups 2” was going to be, in a generally inefficient by likable way, a Big Sander movie? Heck, shouldn’t it have just been a gathering of the old gang, some bathroom humor, some physical comedy, and then home again, home again, jiggity jig?
Well, “2” is big enough that the cast of old associates—Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, and Kevin James— is swamped in its legions of recognizable players. Jon Lovitz (peeking at cleavage) and Shaquille O’Neal are welcome every time they appear on the screen. Other cameos are less successful.
The bathroom humor is mostly over after the first reel (though it is loathsome while it is showing). And the comedy is varied, including some wit as well as a deer urinating on Sandler’s character. Then the business with the deer figures again, late in the movie, as part of the resolution of one of the story’s couple of continuing conflicts.
“Grown Ups 2” is about four old friends living in a small town and grappling with what seem to be really minor problems. “Bullying,” the current advertised terror of the schools, is one of these problems. The other is a little more difficult to corral, but one might say it was “Parenthood.” Each problem gets light treatment in a different form in the experiences of each of the main characters.
So Spade is bullied by his j.d. son. Sandler’s younger son is being bullied. Sandler himself used to be bullied (by Stone Cold Steve Austin). And the four middle-aged men are bullied by the membership of a local college fraternity, boys led by Taylor Lautner.
Selma Hayek, who is back as Sandler’s wife, is having a tough time telling him she is pregnant again. James is spending extra time with his mother (Georgia “Georgette” Engle) because his child-nurturing wife (Maria Bello) ignores him. Rock’s daughter is going out on her first date. And Spade is bullied by his body-builder girlfriend, who goes to the story-ending 80s party costumed as Hulk Hogan.
Neither the bullying issue nor the one about raising kids gets a decent discussion. Each provides a few opportunities for silliness.
One other remarkable thing about “Grown Ups 2” is how wasteful it is. What does the business about Rock’s daughter being able to sing have to do with anything else in the film, for example?
Still, this is a more amusing movie than have been most of Sandler’s recent ones. And a better movie than was the original “Grown Ups.” For whatever that’s worth.