Grown Ups 2 (PG-13) ½

Review Date: July 11th, 2013

The scene that best identifies the original Grown Ups, Happy Madison's 2010 wrangling of Adam Sandler and his band of thieves, sees Kevin James demonstrating an ad hoc jig as an advertisement for what Sandler and wife Salma Hayek would miss if they were to leave the gang's vacation house in favor of attending a fashion industry gala in Paris. Backed by the subdued laughter of his wife and friends, Smith shimmies around for a couple of seconds, the film forgoing what might have been a more outrageous or laugh-out-loud punchline for something goofy and naturalistic. The sort of joke that a real person might make among his friends and family. And although Grown Ups might not have hit home in its delivery of this theme - just a group of old friends, hanging out and cracking wise, in a way to which everyone in the audience can relate - it... well, it tried.

The scene that best identifies Grown Ups 2? Hard to say. Maybe it's the point at which David Spade zooms across town inside of a giant tire, submitting to projectile vomit when he is finally halted by the brick wall that is Shaquille O'Neal's torso. Maybe it's the part when newbie Nick Swardson, playing some kind of sexually confused, substance-addicted Gollum, surfs the top of a school bus that his pals hijacked en route to relive the glory days at the old watering hole. It's hard to pinpoint an instance that most effectively captures the overall mood because the mood changes by the minute - the film shoots erratically from efforts at down-to-Earth, slice of life humor to moments of unabashed fantasy, like Shaq literally punting a teenager over a three-story house. It's impossible to pinpoint an instance that most effectively captures the overall plot, because that simply doesn't exist. There's a set-up, sure: Adam Sandler moves back to his hometown, and... it's summer now. Beyond that - an element that is introduced with the star having his face urinated upon by a home intruding deer - chaos.

And it's chaos in every sense of the word. Chaos in the things that happen - like the vomiting tires and the Nick Swardson and the micturating wildlife. Chaos in the fact that some things happen for no discernible reason - like Kevin James exhibiting a 5-Hour Energy addiction, Sandler and Chris Rock's high school-aged sons feigning drunkenness to fit in with a college crowd, Sandler suspecting his wife of having an affair with her aerobics instructor (Oliver Hudson). These, and a ganglion of other ostensible plotline seedlings, are planted, but never brought to blossom.

Sandler's suspicions of Hayek's adultery is introduced in one scene, set to rest in another, and ignored entirely for the hour in between. Sandler and Rock's boys dance around the prospects of befriending the partying university students but then are barely seen, and never in the company of this motif, for the rest of the film. And Kevin James' alarming 5-Hour Energy shtick? One that follows his anxiety over the way his wife is raising their children and her disapproval of how much time he prefers to spend with his mother? Never explained. In fact, none of his two theoretically daunting stories are explored whatsoever. The closest thing to a character arc that James gets in this movie is his recurring delivery of a burp-sneeze-fart combination in which he takes immense pride. That gets more screen time than the hints of marital problems strewn haphazardly throughout James' would-be story.

In fact, when the film does pay fleeting attention to what might have been some actual character work, James' wife, Maria Bello, is treated like a villain. She's a loon who enables her young son's academic shortcomings and who is showcased as the bad guy for not being more nurturing to her husband's desire to be waited on hand and foot by his mother. And truth be told, she's pretty damn nurturing to it! But not so much that his eventual free pass to spend as much time as he wishes at his mom's place, avoiding his wife and kids, is supposed to be seen as a victory.

Bello is not an outlying example of the film's misogynistic point of view. An aerobics class illustrates all attending wives - Hayek, Bello, the usually sensational Maya Rudolph - as ravenous, animalistic deviants ready and willing to cheat on their husbands with the attractive instructor, who announces he is gay to disapproving boos. Although this is only meant to express their disappointment in a lack of opportunity for sexual conquest, the homophobia does not stop there: a transexual character is made a focal point of ridicule throughout the film. And Swardson, whatever semblance of a human being he is portraying in this movie, transforms into a deplorable, bodily fluid-soaked gay joke in the third act of the film. The single consistent throughline Grown Ups 2 seems to have, in fact, is its bigotry.

With Saturday Night Live vets popping out of the woodworks in every scene, and the ridiculousness escalating as the minutes carry on for a 101-minute eternity, you might be ambitious enough to wade through all the debris of scattered non-plots and offensive material and approach every non sequitur with revived hope. ''Hey, Jon Lovitz! He's funny. Maybe this gag will work.'' Or, ''Holy shit, is that Stoen Cold Steve Austin? Awesome!'' But the sparse moments of laughter never come from where you might expect, and are at best born from a morbid appreciation for the horror story that has befallen a once promising troupe. Playing David Spade's degenerate illegitimate son, Hunger Games vet Alexander Ludwig experiments with deadpan one-liners that are so bizarre in delivery, they're off-puttingly hilarious. But Grown Ups 2's comedy crown belongs to Taylor Lautner.

Scratch that. Taylor Lautner's stunt double. For, the most genuine laughter provoked by the movie comes from the frat boy character's effusive front-flips, performed throughout the suburban backdrop. So high above the rest of the movie does this unsung hero fly that we're unsure if Grown Ups 2 was constructed as a The Producers-like ploy to launch the stuntman, or perhaps Lautner, to comedy stardom, bolstering his reputation against the destruction of everyone else's.

The strangest thing about Grown Ups 2 is not its quality - we've seen bottom of the barrel movies before, and from Sandler's team for certain. What's truly strange is how far a cry it is from Grown Ups in its very nature. No longer naturalistic, emotionally-embued, or even about anything, the sequel would have made more sense as a follow-up to one of Sandler's more absurdist romps. Of course, if this was labeled as a Billy Madison sequel, then it might actually start violent riots. Like the one in this movie. Oh yeah, the whole town beats the s**t out of a bunch of kids.


Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter