For some time attending a new Adam Sandler movie has been an act of cinematic masochism. Could “Jack and Jill” be worse than “Grown-Ups”? Could “Grown-Ups 2” possibly exceed the horror of “Jack and Jill”? The downward slide to unmentionable depths seemed unstoppable, especially since Sandler also paused to help make an unrelenting atrocity like “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.”
But “Blended”—a sort of two-hour pilot for a twenty-first century “Brady Bunch”—manages to halt it; it’s not a good movie by any standard, but if you set aside the occasional sleazy gag and the dumb slapstick, it’s relatively innocuous and inoffensive, though as obvious as a made-for-TV family comedy. What’s the secret? Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s directed by Frank Coraci, who helmed Sandler’s 1998 breakthrough hit “The Wedding Singer.” (But he also directed “The Water Boy,” “Click,” “Zookeeper” and “Here Comes the Boom.”) Or perhaps it’s the presence of Drew Barrymore, his co-star not only in “Singer” but the agreeable “50 First Dates,” whose career has been checkered at best but who still seems to bring out the best in him. Maybe it’s the fact that except for Kevin Nealon, the raft of Sandler’s buddies who made the “Grown-Ups” movies so revolting are absent in this instance. It certainly helps that Sandler doesn’t shout as much as in his recent outings, and doesn’t—shudder!—play two roles, as in “Jack and Jill.” Whatever the cause, at least “Blended” doesn’t turn your stomach—which is a definite step up for a Sandler movie.
“Blended” begins with a bad first date (at Hooter’s no less) pairing two single parents—Jim (Sandler), a widower with three girls who’s a manager at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store (combined product placement and penis joke!), and Lauren (Barrymore), a divorcee with two boys who runs a closet-organizing service with Jen (Wendi McKlendon-Covey). They don’t hit it off, to put it mildly, but are naturally destined to find one another. The catalyst is a joint vacation to a South African resort—a castoff from Jen, whose boyfriend purchased it as a prospective engagement trip that gets cancelled when she finds out he has five kids. After a rocky start it gradually brings them together, with Jim bonding with Lauren’s boys, Lauren with his daughters and each with the other.
There are no surprises here, of course, and the picture is an uncomfortable mixture of saccharine, warmhearted moments (Lauren singing to Jim’s girls, Jim teaching her son to play baseball), coarseness (jokes about masturbation and tampons, and even a shot of rhinos humping) and comic action (an ostrich ride, a slapstick hang-gliding sequence, another with Sandler riding an ostrich). Raunchiness is provided by Nealon, a fellow guest travelling along with his trophy wife whose jiggles excite Jim’s boys. (Nealon also has a teen son who links up with Jim’s oldest daughter, a tomboy whom Lauren gives a girly makeover not unlike the one at the end of “The Breakfast Club.”) It’s by-the-numbers formula down the line.
In this case, however, one rather appreciates that the formula hasn’t gone sour and nasty, even if the sweetness becomes overpowering. True, the scattershot approach misses more often than it hits. The gags regarding the Africans working the resort—Abdoulaye N’Gom as the welcome-in-chief, Terry Crews as a hunky singer who pops up with back-up chorus to comment on the action, Chris April as a lazy safety director—come perilously close to bad taste. All the material involving Lauren’s clueless ex (Joel McHale) is a bust. The periodic appearances by Nealon and Jessica Lowe as his wife Ginger come off like bad improv. And the turn by Shaquille O’Neal—who’s turned up in plenty of Sandler’s other pictures—as Jim’s co-clerk at Dick’s suggests that he hasn’t taken many acting lessons since “Kazaam” and “Steel.” Technically everything is basically okay, though the South African shoot appears to strain the skill of the crew at a few messy points.
This mixture of romantic comedy, frantic farce, family sitcom, sentimentality and coarseness doesn’t really blend all that well. But compared to his last few films, “Blended” is a relief, a new Sandler vehicle that at least doesn’t make you want to retch.