REVIEW: “Grown Ups 2”

GROWN UPS POSTERWhy would I subject myself to the torment of watching “Grown Ups 2”? Am I a glutton for punishment? Did I actually think this would be a watchable film? I mean let’s be honest, Adam Sandler hasn’t made a good movie in years and the first “Grown Ups” picture was a laborious exercise in stupidity. So there’s no reason to think this would be a funny and entertaining comedy, right? Or is there? After all it did rake in nearly $250 million at the box office. Oh who am I fooling? “Grown Ups 2” is yet another painfully bad film that I think goes down as one of Sandler’s worst (and that’s saying something).

Where do I begin when a movie is this terrible? How about with the opening scene which clearly tells you what you are in store for. Sandler wakes up one morning to find a huge deer in his bedroom. He scares the deer causing it to urinate all over his face. This sequence is out of the blue, amateurish, and embarrassingly unfunny. Actually that’s a good way to describe this entire movie. I know Sandler has a following and many people subscribe to this brand of humor, but I would rather have my eyeballs dug out with an ice cream scoop than to sit through this torture again.

There are so many egregious problems with this movie. Let’s start with the biggest issue – it’s not the slightest bit funny. I may be wrong but the object of most comedies is to make the audience laugh. If that is a key measurement of success “Grown Ups 2” fails miserably. I sat stone-faced through the majority of the film’s 100 minutes only slightly grinning on a couple of occasions. The humor is ostensibly juvenile and astoundingly idiotic. Sandler and his co-writing compadres seem to have no idea on how to conceive or setup a gag. Instead they wallow in cheap, lazy, and overused nonsense that have become signatures of Adam Sandler movies. For example take Sandler’s infatuation with toilet humor. We get farting, urinating, projectile vomiting, picking and eating from a belly button. All of this lowbrow garbage that serves as a substitute for actual good writing.

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Another glaring flaw is the complete and utter lack of a plot. I’m still stunned at the absence of any cohesive and coherent story. It’s kind of like a series of poorly conceived comedy sketches pasted together to form a storyline. The problem is nothing ever happens. It’s as if Sandler is more interested in creating a playground for him and his buddies. He tosses in several weird and awkward cameos and small roles from the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Adam Samberg, Steve Buscemi, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Taylor Lautner, Dan Patrick, and several more. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that drowning us in these appearances would divert our attention away from the absence of a decent narrative. It didn’t work.

I suppose Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, and Kevin James were trying to make another movie about childhood buddies and their middle-aged lives. Yet it’s interesting that these characters have become more childish and imbecilic in the three years since the first film. But I don’t think anyone involved really cares. There’s no sense of shame whatsoever. With an $80 million budget, this was clearly a cash-in for the whole bunch.

Remember I described the first scene of the movie? Well the final scene features a man passing gas on his wife. Do you get the gist of what “Grown Ups 2” is all about? This film incited more facepalms and head-shakes than laughs and the script feels like something Sandler could have scribbled on the palm of his hand. There isn’t an ounce of creativity, originality, or intelligence and if they weren’t making millions of dollars I would be embarrassed for everyone involved. Instead they are laughing all the way to the bank, and I promise you they were laughing a lot more than I was.

VERDICT – 0.5 STARS

“BEAUTIFUL BOY” – 3 1/2 STARS

It’s hard to know how to take some movies inspired by real-life tragic events ripped from the newspaper headlines. They can sometimes be sobering and enlightening while others can be exploitative and irreverent. “Beautiful Boy” is a crushing drama that deals with the agony of a school shooting but from a different point of view. It’s obvious similarity to the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre is not by accident. Director and co-writer Shawn Ku’s connection to the college not only helped inspire the story but is one reason this intense subject matter is handled with such care and respect. The thrust of story doesn’t center on the horrible event itself. Instead its focus is on the devastating effects the massacre has on the shooter’s parents.

Maria Bello and Michael Sheen play Kate and Bill, a disconnected married couple on the road to separation. The one single thread holding them together is their son Sam (Kyle Gallner). Sam is a college freshman who has struggled adjusting to campus life. Sam calls home one night trying to hide his despondency from his parents. Bill and Kate attribute his emotion to the pressures of college life. But the next morning police arrive at their home to inform them that Sam has opened fire at his school killing 17 people before taking his own life. This all happens early in the movie while the rest of the film explores the brutal effects it has on Bill and Kate’s already strained relationship.

While Sam’s actions play a key role in the story they serve more as a backdrop. We don’t get inside Sam’s head and really examine his motives and some may have a problem with that. But it’s no problem for me since the movie’s intention is to look at a marriage on the brink of dissolution. Both Bello and Sheen deliver grounded performances that often times result in scenes driven by realistic, raw emotion. Their son’s acts cause them to face issues simmering beneath the surface of their marriage and their reactions feel natural and true. You watch as the chasm between them grows wider yet no one understands what they’re going through except each other. It’s an interesting dynamic that works more often times than not.

The movie does require the audience to automatically connect with Bill and Kate. We never get much insight into their relationship prior to the shooting. We see their relationship is strained but it’s hard to connect with them other than through their emotional devastation brought on by the loss of their son and the horrible circumstances surrounding it. I really felt for them especially as we see them deal with things such as the media camped out on their lawn, having to issue a public statement, and the stares of curious neighbors and co-workers all on top of their personal loss. But their relationship could have been easier to invest in if we were given more early in the film.

The movie also has an inconsistent visual style. At times it seems to be intentionally striving for a more artsy look with quick camera sweeps and strategic camera angles. Other times it looks very generic and by-the-book. I also wasn’t a big fan of the rather drab color palette. The movie seems soaked in blues and grays. Obviously this was intentional and I’m sure it was meant to convey the overall mood of the picture. But it was a little too much for me.

Even with its flaws “Beautiful Boy” can be a powerful film that handles some tricky and weighty subject matter with care and compassion. It was certainly a different approach seeing this type of horrifying event through the eyes of the parents and while their marriage isn’t opened as much as I wished, it’s impossible not to moved by the emotional distress this couple faces. Shawn Ku handles the material seriously and truthfully and some fine performances from Sheen and Bello help make up for the film’s shortcomings.