LOS ANGELES - It would be dishonest to call "Grown Ups 2" the most repellent high-profile comedy in recent memory. But that's largely because few moviegoers have memories kind enough to have already erased 2010's "Grown Ups" - which offered almost every loathsome quality of this installment, plus Rob Schneider.
Adam Sandler returns as Lenny, a Hollywood player who since the first film has moved his family to his rural hometown, where the kids can bike to school and Dad gets plenty of Guy Time with pals Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock), and Marcus (David Spade). Happily, this film's conception of male friendship is less reliant on insults and abuse than its predecessor, and doesn't need to paint the men's wives as shrews in order to give the motley bunch something in common.
Which is not at all to say that the humor has matured. The opening scene, in which a deer wanders into Lenny's house, offers two separate occasions in which the beast rears back on hind legs to urinate on someone; the second goes on long enough to suggest someone has a fetish to indulge. Throughout, gags are cartoonishly broad and afforded so little time for setup and delivery we seem to be watching less a story than a catalog of tossed-out material.
Set on the last day of school, the script follows as Lenny commandeers his kids' bus (the driver, played by Nick Swardson, is high on pills) and, after dropping them and their schoolmates off, makes a day of it with his hooky-playing pals. Together they pioneer new bodily functions (Eric's "Burp-snarting," which may sound more amusing than it is) and fantasize about those they don't get enough of: Attending their daughters' dance rehearsal, they can't stop gawking at an instructor the credits helpfully dub "Hot Dance Teacher."
Soon the fellows are trying to make old bodies do what young ones never did. Visiting a favorite swimming hole so Eric can dive off the cliff he always feared, they cross paths with a band of frat boys (led by Taylor Lautner), whose collective loutishness makes Sandler & Co. look like knights of the Round Table. A rivalry is born, though the adults don't know they're being targeted for destruction. Instead, they spontaneously decide to throw an 80s-themed yard party, and in a couple of hours half the town arrives in costumes that would have taken a week to assemble.
Like the first film, this one is built upon the seriously misguided idea that five or ten minutes of sentimental family-values talk can coexist with an hour and a half of burp-snarting and the like. Here, Lenny must contend with the news that his wife (Salma Hayek) wants to have a fourth child; Eric, inexplicably, must keep his wife (Maria Bello) in the dark about how much time he spends keeping his elderly mother company; Marcus must make peace with the thuggish son he never knew he sired; and Kurt... well, Chris Rock gets to ad-lib one or two funny lines and spend the rest of the film waiting for something better to come along.
Sandler, whose best work tends to be his least rewarded at the box office, has never before made a sequel. That he would make an exception for "Grown Ups" says nothing good about his trajectory as an artist.
He and Rock, more than their costars, may yet have good movies in them about embracing adult responsibilities after years of playing the fool. But "Grown Ups" and a dozen other half-hearted productions suggest they won't succeed with such statements while they're trying to succeed commercially.
Rating: PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America "for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity"
Running time: 100 minutes