Silver Screen: Blended **1/2
Adam Sandler’s latest effort, Blended, isn’t exactly a return to form, but it at least feels more like a movie from the guy who made Happy Gilmore rather than the inflictor of Jack and Jill and the Grown Ups movies. It’s a light, pleasant family comedy that’s as blandly inoffensive as the big-box stores and corporate-chain bar-and-grills he serenades, like the poet laureate of the interstate-exit strip malls.
This Brady Bunch-on-Safari premise opens with single parents Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Drew Barrymore) on a date, the first for each of them in many years. Lauren is a divorcée whose absentee ex-husband (Joel McHale) was a serial philanderer. Jim is a kindhearted widower left to raise three daughters on his own. The date is a disaster: He brings her to Hooters, chugs her beer, and barely makes eye contact. She flounders awkwardly— and broadly— dousing the heat of a too-spicy shrimp dish by shoving a flap of French-onion soup cheese topping into her mouth and causing a scene.
The two part ways, but through some surprisingly complex plot machinations involving her best pal (Bridesmaids’ Wendi McLendon-Covey) and the owner of Dick’s Sporting Goods, they secure spots for their families on a lavish free vacation to South Africa. The catch is, it’s a resort getaway for newly blended families of divorce, so the adults must pretend to be a couple for the sake of their kids.
A few broad grossout gags remain— a pair of rhinoceri screw onscreen, and later another one of the great beasts menaces Barrymore’s vagina with its horn— and the corporate worship takes on not only increased prominence but also a weird circularity. (Sandler’s middle daughter is named Espn, after his favorite TV network, which gets even stranger when at last the Dick of Dick’s Sporting Goods shows up onscreen played by famed former ESPN Sportscenter anchor Dan Patrick, as we approach the marketing-synergy singularity.)
Still, Blended has some heart. Sandler stacks the deck in his favor with the sad-eyed widower routine, but his natural charm and inherent sweetness makes him great with the kids, all of whom have ready-made problems that require traditional gender roles to repair. One of Lauren’s sons has anger issues and needs paternal guidance, while Jim’s girls are stifled under their father’s protective, masculine upbringing and need a proper lady to put them in dresses to achieve normalized femininity.
It sometimes tips into the treacly and saccharine, but there are some nicer, more relatable moments. In the movie’s best scene, an early one back Stateside, Sandler is dispatched by his eldest daughter to go buy tampons and runs into Lauren, who discovered a naked centerfold under her son’s bed and tore it up in parental freakout. She’s at the drug store trying to find the exact porn mag so she can replace it under the kid’s bed and spare him a shaming, so she and Jim agree to swap purchases and save themselves embarrassment. It’s a nice moment between the two characters and the movie’s best reminder of the chemistry the two leads shared in The Wedding Singer, which remains Sandler’s most fully realized comedy.
Most of the movie’s big laughs come not from the stars but the bit players, notably the great Kevin Nealon as a dopily enthusiastic cradle robber and the always-funny Terry Crews playing the resort’s singing-and-dancing welcoming party who’s followed around by a full chorus and narrates the action at inappropriate moments.
I’m still holding out for another movie from the guy who did the dark self-parody in Funny People or channeled intense, unfocused emotion in Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler’s next movie is written and directed by the excellent Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor). He’s due for another gem, but until then Blended is appealing to its family audience and at least up to the standards of Sandler’s significant talent.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.