The 1980s have their revenge in Grown Ups 2: The last half hour of Dennis Dugan’s comedy takes place at a costume party where the entire cast is decked out in full Reagan-era regalia, from Hall and Oates and Boy George to Flava Flav and the Terminator. The spectacle of so many old-school icons locked in a no-holds barred battle royale feels torn straight from Adam Sandler’s subconscious, and Grown Ups 2 eventually reveals itself as a desperate exercise in nostalgia. It’s a Hot Tub Time Machine of a movie that allows its producer-writer-star to project himself back into his glory days: It’s no coincidence that Sandler’s character is dressed up as Bruce Springsteen.
Like its predecessor, Grown Ups 2 is proudly retrograde, both in its relentless deluge of toilet humour and the way it bear-hugs some good old-fashioned conservative values. As the film opens, Sandler’s Lenny Feder has moved from Hollywood back to his heartland hometown, where, it’s implied, people are kind and decent and hard-working – except for the privileged, lily-white college kids (led by a self-mocking Taylor Lautner) who serve as the film’s de facto villains.
Not that there is much at stake here: In lieu of a plot, we get a series of loose, barely connected vignettes where Lenny and his lifelong pals (played, as in Grown Ups, by real-life besties Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade) clown around and reflect on the mixed blessings of middle age while their kids go through some middle-class rites of passage: first beers, first kisses and final reckonings with high-school bullies.
There’s something fascinating about the tension between Sandler’s bad-boy comic instincts and his sturdy suburban values, and Grown Ups 2 is at the very least a work of sincerity. But the relaxed vibe only exacerbates the laziness of Dennis Dugan’s direction – there isn’t a single well-staged gag in the entire movie – and the indifference becomes wearying. None of the stars are trying very hard, and so the most memorable presences are the cameos: If nothing else, Grown Ups 2 will go down as the only film in history to find room for Steve Buscemi alongside “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.