It is just a few minutes into "Grown Ups 2" when star Adam Sandler is peed on in the face by a deer. How one feels about that — is it funny, is it cheap, is it a weird curiosity? — will likely be an accurate litmus test for responses to the rest of the film.
The 2010 film "Grown Ups" was among the biggest box office successes of Sandler's career, so it makes sense that he would reunite with costars Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade for his first sequel. As very patient wives, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are even more flagrantly underused here than in the first film. (Who knows what kept Rob Schneider from returning, except for a rare display of noble decorum.)
The first film was based around a reunion of childhood friends. The new film finds Sandler's character — who made it rich as a Hollywood agent — having recently moved back to his leafy East Coast hometown so his kids can ride their bikes to school and his family can live in a house exponentially larger than anyone else's in town.
Directed by Sandler go-to Dennis Dugan from a screenplay credited to Sandler, Fred Wolf and Tim Herlihy, the film's story is structured loosely around the last day of school, which somehow allows the four fathers to have the day to knock around. Eventually last-minute plans to throw a party push the story along, with most every character in the movie able to pull together an elaborate '80s-themed costume on a few hours notice.
The film's cast is nonsensically populated with Sandler regulars, alums from various eras of "Saturday Night Live," random tween talents, a Schwarzenegger-Shriver son, a Victoria's Secret model, Shaquille O'Neal, a character apparently modeled on hip-hop personality Humpty Hump, Steve Austin, a "Hunger Games" actor and Taylor Lautner from the "Twilight" movies. The J. Geils Band play at the party.
Late in the film, Sandler's character bemoans the fact that they are all old and irrelevant, that there should be no more parties for them, just the low-key respectability of family-man responsibility. That concept, and the tension it creates within the male characters, is teasingly just close enough to an actual point to remind that this entire enterprise could have actually been about something besides whether chocolate ice cream looks like poo.
Judd Apatow's recent "This Is 40" more fully explored a similar anxiety of middle-age and the comedic pathos of everyday life with messily vibrant results. With the slack, lackadaisical effort of "Grown Ups 2," Sandler has perhaps revealed himself not as a confrere of Apatow, who directed him in "Funny People" to a performance both crude and soulful. Rather, he's the white Tyler Perry: smart enough to know better, savvy enough to do it anyway, lazy enough not to care.
"Grown Ups 2" looks like it was a lot of fun to make. And the last laugh is on us.
'Grown Ups 2'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and suggestive content, language and some male rear nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: In wide releaseCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times