Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Nealon and Joel McHale
Directed by Frank Coraci
From Warner Brothers and Happy Madison
Sandler slumps through another mediocre comedy
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
Measuring one Adam Sandler movie with another is like ranking the world’s worst sewer systems, or death rows, or wars — the futility of that endeavor is just too vile to stomach.
Yet, here we are, with another tone-deaf Sandler movie that’s so awful you can’t help but get out a ruler to compare it to all that came before it: Mr. Deeds, Big Daddy, Little Nicky, Grown Ups or the brown standard, Jack & Jill, in which two Sandlers pummeled the life out of the theater’s real estate.
Blended is no Jack & Jill, though it certainly aspired to be — a terrifying thought. The comedy begins with a set of jokes that do not give much hope for the rest of the film: a babysitter is blasted with a fire extinguisher that is likely filled with vanilla frosting, the perplexing phrase “like Weird Al starring in Weird Science,” and a gag that ends with someone saying “you should roofie her and shave her head.” Even the crickets were cringing.
The setup is that Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Drew Barrymore) go on a terrible blind date, but the next day they score some discount tickets to Africa from a man who was going to take his five kids and girlfriend on a “blended familymoon.” Jim takes his three daughters and Lauren takes her two sons, and off they go to Africa. Where in Africa, though? I’m still not sure, because the movie never says. Hopefully director Frank Coraci knows Africa is a continent made of many countries, but that might be wishful thinking.
Making matters worse is Africa itself, which looks and sounds like one of those safari movies from the 1940s, with lots of ivory chairs and stuffed zebra heads. Coraci — whose comedy credentials include The Waterboy, Click and Zookeeper, an unholy trinity of cringe-worthy cinema — puts all his African characters in dashikis and then promptly gives up at portraying the culture or its people with any nuance or respect. Apparently, all of Africa is a theme park for white tourists. Blended isn’t overtly racist; it’s just obnoxiously negligent.
Jim and Lauren start out hating each other, first at their date (at a Hooters) and then during an embarrassing run-in at a pharmacy. Jim is there to get tampons for his daughter; Lauren is there to get porn for her son. It’s an interesting visit that ends with the pharmacist revealing something they teach in pharmacy school to never do. By the time they get to Africa, they’re still bickering, but it’s shortlived as the two fall in love amid scenes of rhino humping, warthog evisceration, and Terry Crews and his harmonizing a cappella group photo-bombing every scene.
Sandler seems to have transferred his trademark rage onto the child actors, who channel Sandlerisms through comedy so unfortunate that I was secretly hoping Rob Schneider would pop up to slow the descending momentum. Hilary (Bella Thorne) plays the oldest daughter; her dad calls her Larry. She wears an awful pageboy haircut and boyish clothes, which spawns some uncomfortable transgender jokes. “All the kids think I’m a lesbian,” she says after she stuffs her training bra with some Dr. Scholl’s foot inserts. The middle daughter is called Espn (pronounced ess-pen), after Jim’s favorite TV channel. The youngest daughter makes it out mostly unscathed aside from a demonic little growl she gurgles out “in the name of Lucifer.”
Lauren’s boys have their own brand of issues, including the elder son, Brendan, the serial masturbator. There’s a recurring joke about him taping a picture of their babysitter onto his porn. This actor seems too young for jokes this crude. His brother spends much of the movie asleep so we can get repeated shots of Lauren bonking his head into walls and doors as she maneuvers his sleeping corpse into bed.
This is Barrymore and Sandler’s third movie together after 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer. No significant improvements are made on their chemistry, which can be gentle and rewarding at times. Like most Sandler movies, there is a tenderness hidden within key scenes — if only the jokes that lead into and out of it weren’t so tonally destructive. Mostly, Blended is just amateur and juvenile. It’s the kind of movie that names a character Dick so another character can say things like “I miss Dick so much” or “I can’t get enough Dick,” because that’s never been done before.
Sandler is an acquired taste, and American audiences are an acquiring bunch. The audience I saw the movie with howled in approval. Maybe it was the free movie, or maybe they’re just Sandler True Believers. Either way, Blended is a largely terrible comedy from my point of view. It made me miss Eddie Murphy in fat suits, Tyler Perry in drag, or Ryan Reynolds in anything. I guess I should be grateful it wasn't Jack & Jill.