With Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews. Directed by Frank Coraci. Written by Ivan Menchell, Clare Sera. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and language. 117 minutes.
Adam Sandler does not have a fan here, even when his films are widely popular – which they have not been of late. However there is an exception to this: his movies with Drew Barrymore. If you watch “The Wedding Singer” or “50 First Dates” the two have a weird but undeniable chemistry as she somehow turns this overgrown 11-year-old into a sympathetic romantic comedy lead. Alas, their third outing together, BLENDED, isn’t as good. The reason is that the two aspects of Sandler’s film career fight for control of the movie.
The first half of the film is atrocious, filled with the sort of jokes Sandler must have gotten big yuks with back in middle school. Jim (Sandler) is a widower and Lauren (Barrymore) a divorcee, and they’re both out on their first date in years. It’s a fix-up and you know it’s going to go badly the minute you realize he’s invited her to “Hooters” and drinks her beer while she’s in the bathroom.
Both are parents, and the kids are mostly Sandler material as well. Her two boys (Kyle Red Silverstein, Braxton Beckham) are out-of-control with the older one having sex fantasies about their babysitter. His three girls are relatively normal, although the middle one (Emma Fuhrman) goes everywhere with the ghost of her mother and the eldest, Hilary (Bella Thorne), is so androgynous that everyone thinks she’s a boy. It doesn’t help that Dad, who works in a sporting goods store, picks her clothes, or that he calls her Larry. The youngest (Alyvia Alyn Lind) can act weird but her primary job is to be adorable, which she is.
Then, through an unbelievable plot contrivance, Jim and Lauren and their kids take over a vacation package reservation for “blended families” in South Africa. Perhaps what we see on screen actually exists, but the resort hotel and activities looks more like a Disney theme park based on “The Lion King.” However, the film slowly morphs into a movie where Lauren will forge connection with the girls and Jim with the boys, so that the two adults can discover that their first impressions of each other were mistaken. If you’re willing to wade through the muck, you’ll find that they slowly discover what really makes the story tick.
Barrymore is a fine comic actress who eases into her first “mother” role with aplomb, whether it’s singing the little girl to sleep or convincing Hilary she needs a makeover. Sandler’s character has a tin ear when it comes to dealing with his eldest, but shows surprising affection and empathy with the younger girls and with the two boys. By film’s end–assuming you make it that far–you’ll want things to work out.
As for the rest of it, it’s pretty disposable. When the gags aren’t driven by character they are broad and obvious, including Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe as a couple who can’t keep their hands off each other, and Terry Crews as the lead singer for the hotel band who constantly showing up with an “in your face” musical reaction to the proceedings. Wendi McLendon-Covey appears as Barrymore’s business partner for an enterprise where they organize people’s belongings under the rubric of “Closet Queens.” You can guess where that will be going.
“Blended” is an admixture that doesn’t quite come together, as what might have been a romantic comedy about second chances–with kids–fights for screen time with more typical Adam Sandler fare.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.