See This, Skip That: From Pacific Rim to Grown Ups 2

07/12/2013 at 05:15 PM EDT

Grown Ups 2 and Pacific Rim -- the PEOPLE Reviews
Tracy Bennett
PEOPLE's critic digs Pacific Rim's robots, but wishes they could take out Grown Ups 2 along with the aliens.

Skip this like it's cafeteria mystery meat

Grown Ups 2
The opening scene of Grown Ups 2 features a deer urinating into Adam Sandler's mouth. That's rich, given that he's the one who thinks you'll swallow anything.

This pathetic sequel to the bewilderingly successful 2010 Grown Ups finds Sandler's Lenny Feder back in his hometown, living near old buddies Eric (Kevin James), Kurt (Chris Rock) and Marcus (David Spade) – but not too near, since Lenny is way richer than those guys.

In the course of one incredibly eventful day, they will steal a school bus, tangle with a bunch of frat boys, make an old friend look like he's pooping ice cream, and throw an amazingly elaborate costume party that they dream up around lunchtime and execute flawlessly by dark.

But the problem with GU2 isn't its thin plot, it's the lame humor. The deer pee is disgusting, not funny, while most of the other jokes deserve the "wahh-wahh" sound effect, and a groan for good measure. I can't even tell you what an enormous doofus Shaquille O'Neal is as a local cop. I mean, I could, but it would make us all sad.



Like most Sandler joints, though, GU2 is bursting at the seams with cameos. Everyone who ever worked at Saturday Night Live (and isn't still bitter about it) appears, along with Steve Austin, Steve Buscemi and Oliver Hudson in small but showy roles. Even Georgia Engel gets into the act as Eric's overly doting mom. Oh well. I guess we should just be glad she's working.

See this

Pacific Rim
The fights between the alien monsters and giant robots are spectacular. (If that's all you needed to know, then feel free to just save yourself the grief and skip to Fruitvale and Still Mine – they're terrific).

For those 11 of you who want a reasonably good movie on which to hang those awesome scenes of hand-to-claw combat, you're out of luck. When it's not in Terminator v. Godzilla mode, Pacific Rim is unimaginative and dour, with two leads who might well have English, math and history together, but certainly no chemistry.

The film's lengthy preamble explains that in the near future, alien behemoths called Kaiju will invade Earth through a portal in the ocean floor. In a rare but totally necessary display of unity, all of our planet's nations band together to build a small army of Jaegers, or giant robots, under the control of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba). The robots themselves are usually controlled by a pair of related pilots who "drift" together, or enter a mind-sharing state, so that they can act as one massive battlebot. For optimum fighting power it's critical to have drift partners who are extremely close – until, of course, the movie decides it isn't.

That's because Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) will lose his drift partner, big brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff), in a brutal combat mission, only to be paired with total stranger Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). We're meant to think that Raleigh and Mako have some sort of deeper connection that will make them brilliant co-pilots, but there's no evidence of that onscreen. In fact, there's no real evidence that either of them has any personality at all, so feel free to grab popcorn or take a potty break when you see them launch into conversation.

There are a couple of interesting humans skittering about, though: Elba is naturally dazzling as a commander, showing the younger actors how it's done, while Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are amusing as a pair of bickering scientists, each sure he's got the solution to closing the ocean portal and stopping the war. The only problem is that Day and Gorman are so goofy, they seem like they're in a different movie – at least until director Guillermo del Toro decides to get the film on their page, embracing camp in the final reels.

So why bother seeing Pacific Rim? Because the movie excels at the one thing it promises: cool monster/robot fights. The giant machines may not move entirely mechanically, but who'd want that? They punch and kick like armored mega-ninjas, while the gnarly monsters find new and amazing ways to destroy coastal cities. (Adios, San Francisco, it's been real.) The action is so overwhelming, you may not even need to see the film in 3D, though I'd recommend splurging for IMAX. Oh, and be sure to take older kids, or failing that, your inner child. They are the target audience, after all.

But please, seek these out

Fruitvale Station
If you don't already know Michael B. Jordan from The Wire, Friday Night Lights, or his other incredibly compelling work, you will after Fruitvale. He's already garnering notice for his naturalistic performance as Oscar Grant, the real-life young dad who was shot in the back while handcuffed by an Oakland, Calif., police officer on Jan. 1, 2009.

Fruitvale Station follows Oscar on the last day of his life, touching on real events and filling in the outlines. What it doesn't do is turn him into a saint, showing Oscar as a loving dad and doting son, but also as a lying boyfriend and an ex-con with a hair-trigger temper.

Octavia Spencer has an affecting turn as Oscar's mom, Wanda, but this is Jordan's movie. He handles those quicksilver emotional changes with ease, never revealing what work it must take to do so. To watch the shock register on his face as Oscar realizes he's been shot is nothing short of heartbreaking.



Still Mine
While you're still reeling over Fruitvale, check out this sweet, beautifully crafted drama starring James Cromwell as Craig, a farmer who tries to build a house for his wife, Irene (Geneviéve Bujold), who's in the early stages of dementia.

Tagged by some as the Canadian Amour, Still Mine is more nakedly emotional than the French-language film about a man tending to his dying wife, but no less powerful. Seeing Irene's distress at navigating their old home, Craig sets to work building a new one on his own land, using his own trees and the skill passed down from his shipwright father. Only bureaucracy and rules get in the way, forcing Craig to wrestle with the legal system when he should be tending to his wife.

Cromwell is masterful in this role, saying more with his eyes than he does out loud. His Craig is a taciturn man, but one only made so by circumstance, angry at darkening of his brightest days, but still fiercely loyal to – and in love with – Irene. It's a quiet turn in a small movie, but one that should be talked up during awards season.

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