Blended opens on the floor of a Hooters women’s restroom, as the camera creeps under the stalls and past squirming, panty-wrapped ankles. Because the movie is a latter-day Adam Sandler vehicle, regular viewers (and critics assigned to the Sandler beat) can’t help but assume that it will only get cruder from here. It doesn’t. Tame by Sandler’s current standards, the movie feels like a throwback; it brings to mind the blandly crappy movies Sandler made 10 years ago, rather than the brazenly crappy movies he makes today. In that sense, it’s a double disappointment, neither consistently funny nor endurance-testing.
Sandler—clad in his usual “Who cares?” uniform of extra-large T-shirts, cargo shorts, and black socks—plays Jim, a widower and father of three who manages a Dick’s Sporting Goods franchise. (No Happy Madison production is complete without a little brand integration.) The movie begins with Jim fumbling through a disastrous blind date with Lauren (Drew Barrymore), a divorced professional closet organizer—a job seemingly invented for reality TV shows and romantic comedies—and mother of two. Jim and Lauren go their separate ways but continue running into each other. Eventually, they and their five cumulative children end up booked into the same suite at a South African resort during a weeklong event designed for the newly re-married to get better acquainted with their stepchildren. How they end up booked into the same suite doesn’t really matter; it involves Lauren’s deadbeat ex-husband (Joel McHale), more Dick’s Sporting Goods “integration,” and some finagling that the movie never bothers to depict or explain. What matters is that Lauren and Jim end up assigned to the same meal-time tables and tour groups, and that Jim has to spend the whole trip pretending that his last name is “Theodopolous.”
The movie’s South African middle hour plays like a less misanthropic, Nick Swardson-free variation on Sandler’s 2011 Cactus Flower remake, Just Go With It. Jim and Lauren bond with each other’s kids (his all girls, hers all boys), get mistaken for a married couple, and spend a lot of time sitting around catalog-lit hotel rooms and dining areas. (The resort, by the way, is the notorious Sun City.) As is often the case with Sandler’s later work, the viewer gets the impression that the movie is little more than an excuse for Sandler and his friends (including Kevin Nealon and Shaquille O’Neal) and family (Sandler’s wife, children, and mother all have credited speaking roles) to go on a paid vacation.
Every crummy new Sandler flick inevitably raises the question of whether the star holds his audience in contempt, with each movie’s cheap bathos, unfunny gags, pervasive product placement, and amateurish direction serving as the evidence. With the likes of Jack And Jill—an extended anti-comic ad for Dunkin’ Donuts—the answer seems to be yes. But with a film like Blended, the answer is less clear. Shoddiness has always been an integral part of Sandler’s comedy (see, for example, Carl Weathers’ fake hand in Happy Gilmore). At its best, it turns the act of making a joke into a joke in and of itself. At its worst, it suggests total apathy.
It’s true that Blended has its share of apathetic filmmaking. As in all Sandler vehicles, the pacing is atrocious, and a large chunk of the dialogue consists of family drama boilerplate injected with broad pop-culture references based on an actor’s appearance. (Two different people refer to Lauren’s eldest son as “Frodo.”) There’s some business involving a black, cap-sleeve Alexander McQueen dress that supposedly turns Lauren into the sexiest woman anyone has ever seen, but in reality looks bland and unflattering. Sloppiness abounds; this is the kind of movie where the contents of a glass change from water to champagne depending on the angle.
But, there are also occasional flashes of something resembling comedy, most of which come from resort concierge Mfana (Happy Madison regular Abdoulaye N’Gom) and the singing, dancing Brechtian narrator played by Terry Crews. Reunited with The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci, Barrymore and Sandler give Lauren and Jim the dynamic of an old couple. This being an Adam Sandler movie, though, their closeness only ends up making the whole thing seem shoddier, because it makes their dislike for each other seem totally unmotivated.