In his big-screen comedy career, Adam Sandler has been paired with everyone from Jennifer Aniston (2011’s Just Go With It) to an obnoxious kid (1999’s Big Daddy) to his comedian-actor buddies (the two Grown-Ups films, 2010 and 2013) to himself (2011’s Jack and Jill, possibly the most wretched of this mostly awful bunch).
But, arguably, Sandler’s greatest successes – both commercially and artistically — have come when he’s appeared on-screen with Drew Barrymore, in the romantic comedies The Wedding Singer (1998) and 50 First Dates (2004). Having transitioned from being a troubled, former child star to becoming America’s favorite, pixie-like comic actress, Barrymore somehow found a way to offset his more moronic tendencies with natural sweetness and sheer charm.
As they say, though, all good things come to an end, and their third team-up, Blended, ends their run of successes, at least in terms of quality comedy. A mess of nearly epic proportions, the film sees Barrymore trying to wrest control away from a bored, listless Sandler, who, at this point in his career, seems other either unwilling or unable to turn off/turn down his inner moron.
And yes, that means it’s full of more of the irksome Sandler shenanigans that have dominated his later-period movies. While there are a few attempts to tell an actual story, one with a few appeals, it’s the expected, low-brow antics that dominate – and which make the film even more aggravating than it normally would be.
Sandler and Barrymore star as Jim and Lauren, single parents whose blind date doesn’t go well. In fact, after a series of arguments and embarrassments (most at her expense), these two, would-be lovers agree on one thing only: Their mutual decision never to see each other again.
In typical fashion with this kind of material, that promise is broken sooner than later. Divorcee Lauren and widower Jim take their respective broods on a seeming idyllic vacation to Africa, only to discover that they’re sharing a luxury suite. And despite their differences, Lauren’s two sons (Braxton Beckham and Kyle Red Silverstein) and his three daughters (Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lynd and Bella Thorne) are trying to push them together.
There’s more nonsense involving Lauren’s business partner (Wendy McLendon-Covey, from Bridesmaids) and irresponsible ex (a never-more-unfunny Joel McHale), his buddies (including former Saturday Night Live co-star Kevin Nealon and Shaquille O’Neal, painful in a cameo as a co-worker), and the residents of the surrounding African villages.
Speaking of which, the film is filled with surprisingly insensitive racist language and character depictions (courtesy credited screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera) that couldn’t be more ill-timed, considering the recent racism flap in the NBA and elsewhere. However, such things have come to be expected from Sandler movies, which have also spewed homophobic vitriol and contempt for the disable, among other things.
Plus, Sandler’s character – at least initially – is one of the least appealing leads in a movie seen in quite some time. When that aforementioned first date goes awry, he pretty much sabotages it with his actions and comments. So when he’s supposed to “see the light” and redeem himself through the love of a good woman, it’s not really something we’re interested in seeing.
And aside from Nealon’s somewhat loveable moron character, the movie’s only real laughs come from an African musician character, played by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Terry Crews, who serves the same Greek Chorus role that musician Jonathan Richman did in the infinitely better There’s Something About Mary (1998). As funny as he is here, Crews should have been the focus of a completely different, better movie – one that wasn’t directed by Sandler pal Frank Coraci, who’s clearly lost whatever skills he had through their association. (He also directed The Wedding Singer, but has gotten progressively worse since then.)
Getting back to Barrymore, she again needs some credit for trying to make this work, or at least make the film not completely terrible. But at this point in career, she deserves better. We all do.
Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).