Another year has passed, and so, as with the cold inevitability of death, another Adam Sandler movie is upon us. At the start of his career, there was a gleeful surrealism and inventive stupidity to Sandler’s comedies. In the middle of his career, there was a brief moment suggesting hidden depths to the comedian in more challenging films such as Punch-Drunk Love. These days, Sandler is frustratingly repetitive, safe and dull, three of the finest comedy-killing qualities. Granted, his movies still make millions and given the ever-increasing explosion of shameless product placement in his work (this time Hooters and Dick’s Sporting Goods get plenty of plot-based ad space) that’s just fine by him. So, it comes as a mild relief that Sandler’s latest effort Blended can be described as surprisingly tolerable. The movie offers nothing new or special, but at least it isn’t as painful as watching Sandler walk Al Pacino through a Dunkin’ Donuts rap.
Blended reunites Sandler with Drew Barrymore and their natural onscreen chemistry is the film’s biggest selling point. She’s Lauren, a professional closet organizer (don’t ask, the filmmakers don’t explain), and he’s Jim, a sporting goods store manager who works with Shaq (again, don’t ask). She’s got two sons, he’s got three daughters. They’re both single parents who seem surprisingly financially stable given their niche jobs and responsibilities. So a Brady Bunch union seems inevitable until a horrible first date at Hooters spoils the dream. Thankfully, a ludicrous plot contrivance not worth explaining finds both families sharing a vacation in Africa. It takes 40 minutes of screen time to get there, but after what seems like the world’s longest set-up for a rhino sex sight gag, the movie settles into a gentle family rom-com filled with equal parts sightseeing and lesson-learning. The kids each get one note to play before being abandoned, and a few of Sandler’s pals, like Kevin Nealon, pop up for bizarre cameos. Barrymore bites her lip, Sandler smiles and mutters to himself, and we are on the road to true love.
As sarcastic as that sounds, there is undeniable charm to watching Sandler and Barrymore together (her shrill brand of panic comedy and his mumbling, middle-aged slacker routine play poorly, however, when they have to handle a scene solo). The movie even comes dangerously close to being touching in moments, when Jim and Lauren struggle to justify even looking for love outside of their parental responsibilities. Unfortunately, those fleeting glimpses of emotional maturity quickly disappear in favour of additional slapstick and clichéd plot devices. Along the way, there are even a few genuine laughs thanks to the dependable talents of Nealon, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Terry Crews (whose intense commitment to his absolutely absurd all-singing role somehow works through sheer force of will). Those laughs might be immature and the romance predictable, but at least they exist.
What it all amounts to is a deeply mediocre comedy. That’s certainly nothing special, yet given how particularly tepid the last eight Happy Madison productions have been, it qualifies as a modest improvement. At this point asking Sandler to grow up would be as fruitless as asking the same of Peter Pan. However, asking for competency is reasonable given his power in Hollywood and if nothing else Blended proves that just might be possible.