REVIEW ROUND-UP: Grown Ups 2 (2013), Turbo (2013)

Cal catches up on a couple of stinkers from this year’s hectic schedule. Is Adam Sandler defeated by a speedy snail?

In the very first scene of Grown Ups 2, Lenny (Adam Sandler) awakens inside his suburban home to find a deer casually hanging out in his bedroom. When his wife Roxanne (Salma Hayek) notices the beast, her screams cause the deer to nervously urinate all over Lenny’s face. Following this, the deer runs wildly through the house, peeing on another family member and wreaking havoc. That’s just the first few minutes of this rancid film. And right before the end credits begin to roll, Lenny farts while in bed with Roxanne. This is about all you need to know about Grown Ups 2, the lousy follow-up to 2010’s disappointing but somehow still successful Grown Ups. Things are no better between the scenes that bookend the film, spotlighting Lenny and friends Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock) and Marcus (David Spade) aimlessly moving from place to place, leading to dumb jokes and tired slapstick that’s never actually funny. Even Rob Schneider was unwilling to clear his schedule to star in this dreck. Ponder that for a second…

A lot of scorn can be tossed at Sandler’s output over the past decade, but at least movies like Jack and Jill had an actual plot, adhering to a coherent structure complete with a beginning, middle and end. Grown Ups 2, on the other hand, literally has no plot or story. It’s a string of vignettes, none of which are tied together in any way resembling a narrative. There are actually three credited screenwriters, which is fucking retarded, as Grown Ups 2 is just a random showcase of celebrity cameos and staggeringly terrible CGI. For crying out loud, it’s so bad that it has actually prompted me to reference fucking Jack and Jill as a positive example!

There is no semblance of realism to anything that occurs throughout Grown Ups 2. The film is set up as something of a “day in the life” tale, yet nothing is relatable here, with a sense of Hollywood sensationalism hanging over all of the proceedings. For instance, Lenny’s son wants a shot with the hottest girl in school, and manages to win her over with no effort. In another half-formed subplot, Marcus has a son he never knew about, and although the boy is standoffish and arrogant towards his father, the pair suddenly bond without the audience for unknown reasons. Ostensibly the main narrative thread involves Lenny and Roxanne having another kid, but Dugan pays barely any attention to this malarkey, which is given no weight in the grand scheme of things. Grown Ups 2 is all about idiotic skits, after all – expecting logic or humanity from this nonsense is foolhardy.

With its haphazard structure, Grown Ups 2 feels like an episode of Saturday Night Live, especially since SNL alumni are all over the place, with Nick Swardson, Peter Dante, Steve Buscemi, and even Sandler’s wife Jackie making brief appearances. Stretching the ridiculous budget to breaking point (seriously, this crap cost $80 million to produce?!), various other celebrities and pop culture figures show up for no discernible reason. Steve Austin, Jon Lovitz and Shaquille O’Neal are all present, while Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son Patrick makes precisely little impact as a frat boy in the background. Astonishingly, the only actor who’s worth a damn is Taylor Lautner, who goes for broke in his cartoonish role of a frat boy. Abandoning his self-seriousness from the Twilight films, Lautner is amusing here, embracing the ridiculousness and essentially parodying himself, showing that he does have potential as a comedic performer. But it’s a serious problem that Taylor Lautner is the only funny one in this movie, scoring more laughs that Chris Rock. What the fuck?!

The order of the day in Grown Ups 2 is unfunny pratfalls, juvenile sight gags, and repeated returns to Eric’s ability to burp, sneeze and fart in quick succession. It climaxes with an 80s party, which involves a brawl between the party guests and the frat boys, spurred on by local law enforcement, who don’t seem to care about the myriad of assaults occurring all around them. In the hands of a comedic team who actually know a thing about orchestrating hilarious nonsense, this might have been amusing. But it was handled by the tone deaf Dennis Dugan, a veteran of Sandler awfulness, who makes the whole thing strangely boring and lousy. Grown Ups 2 has no rhythm or cohesion, but above all no purpose – there is no story, the characters remain unchanged by the end, and there are no satisfying laughs to be had. It’s one of Sandler’s worst, and that’s saying something. It should be fucking banned.

Turbo might as well have been called Generic Animated Movie, as this effort from DreamWorks is one of the most aggressively predictable and formulaic in recent memory. With the protagonists of the story being a group of snails, this is a weird picture, but thankfully it’s implemented with slick visuals and plenty of energy that’s almost enough to distract you from its paint-by-numbers construction. Indeed, it goes without saying that the kids will likely adore it due to how light and colourful it is, but it won’t prove to be a depressing experience for the older demographic, as it comes together in an entertaining enough fashion. It’s not Pixar, but it is better than both of the Cars movies.

An ambitious garden snail, Theo (Ryan Reynolds) dutifully continues his daily work routine inside a tomato patch, with his older sibling Chet (Paul Giamatti) keeping his brother in line. Theo wants to do something bigger, though, dreaming that he’ll one day race alongside his personal hero, Guy Gagne (Bill Hader). Leaving the comfort of the garden one night, Theo is sucked into the nitrous oxide reserve of a street racing car, bestowing the snail with lightning speed. After saving Chet from a crow attack, the pair are picked up by Tito (Michael Peña), who works at a struggling taco stand and collects snails. Theo urges Tito to sign him up for the Indianapolis 500, with fellow store owners helping him raise the entry money. Rechristening himself as Turbo, Theo heads to the races with the company of Chet and several other snails, including Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson) and Burn (Maya Rudolph). Before long, all eyes are on Theo, and Guy begins to feel threatened by his tiny competition.

Credited to three writers, the screenplay introduces an interesting conceit not unlike something we would expect to see from a Pixar project, but the plot’s broad strokes are completely by-the-book. Of course Theo wants to be the fastest snail in history and gets to prove the naysayers wrong with his newfound abilities, of course Theo’s racing idol turns out to be a cartoon antagonist, of course there are colourful characters along the way. The narrative is eerily similar to Pixar’s Ratatouille, but Turbo lacks the heart, thoughtfulness and depth of that remarkable endeavour. It even sources ideas from Toy Story (there’s a kid who likes to squash snails, but the tables are eventually turned on him). Indeed, Turbo is a Frankenstein creation through-and-through. Admittedly, it may seem difficult to avoid all the clichés, but Pixar seem to circumvent a lot of the big ones with their more successful movies almost effortlessly. Furthermore, the central message of Turbo is a bit muddled. After all, nitrous oxide is illegal in professional racing, yet nobody seems to care that Theo is competing despite being full of the chemical…

Turbo is probably at its best during the opening act. Before we get to all the racing, director David Soren concentrates on the everyday workings of the snail community, who spend their days picking and sorting tomatoes. Crow abductions are a regular occurrence, too, and the snails literally cannot do anything about it, so they just quickly lament the loss of their comrade before moving on. The real saving grace of Turbo is its gee-whiz eye candy. Even by the perpetually-heightening standards of contemporary CGI animation, the visual experience here is breathtaking. Rendered in 3-D, there’s plenty to enjoy here, and it’s the splashes of colour and snappy pacing that keep the feature watchable from start to end. However, the climactic race does drag on for too long. There are suspenseful beats, but the conclusion is pretty predictable, making the long-winded disposition a little disappointing. Turbo could’ve easily lost five minutes of racing action to make for a better, tighter feature.

Surprisingly, Reynolds actually stretches his range to some extent in voicing Theo. He often plays smart aleck characters, but Theo is a different breed, and he manages to give some heart and personality to the titular mollusc. But it’s Giamatti who stands out the most, placing forth a spirited vocal performance as Chet. His comedic timing and delivery is spot-on, making him the most memorable character in the picture. With that said, though, there are some colourful turns by a number of other actors, most notably Jackson who oozes cool as Whiplash. Peña is also good, giving Tito a nice degree of welcome humanity.

Turbo is riddled with flaws, but it’s not a bad movie – just an easy and simple one, devoid of much in the way of suspense. There are obstacles for Theo throughout the story, to be sure, but we know that he’ll pull through and race, and everything will be conventionally happy at the end. A more daring treatment of the premise would be welcome, but Turbo is amiable and pleasant enough.




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