Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Frank Coraci
Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Nealon, Wendi McLendon Covey, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Braxton Beckham, Kyle Red Silverstein, Jessica Lowe, Zac Henri, Terry Crews, Abdoulaye NGam, Joel McHale, Shaquille O’Neill, Dale Steyn, Tim Herlihy, Allen Covert.
Adam Sandler has inflicted on audiences more cinematic atrocities than his good mate Rob Schneider, which is no easy task. No amount of therapy can erase from my mind those abominations that are the dire Jack And Jill and appallingly bad That’s My Boy, two of the worst films in his career. But Sandler’s films all make money, and he knows what his audience want and is happy to pander to them. So it is surprising to report that his latest hit and miss comic outing, while quite formulaic and predictable, actually has more hits than misses, and has more entertaining moments than both of those two turkeys combined.
Blended is the fourth film Sandler has made with director Frank Coraci (who directed The Wedding Singer, one of Sandler’s better films, as well as Click and The Waterboy), and he seems better able to restrain Sandler and reel in his excesses than that hack-for-hire Denis Dugan (That’s My Boy and a host of other crass comedies).
Jim Freidland (Sandler) is a widower raising three girls – Hilary (Disney star Bella Thorne), Espn (Emma Fuhrmann), who is named after the tv network and who also talks to her dead mother for comfort, and Lou (Alyvia Alyun Lund). Overprotective, Jim dresses them like tomboys and gives them masculine nicknames, but the girls really need a strong female role model in their lives. Jim works at a sporting goods store.
Lauren (Drew Barrymore) is separated from her sleazy husband (Community‘s Joel McHale) and raising two boys of her own. Her oldest son (Braxton Beckham) is obsessed with women’s breasts and his beautiful young baby sitter, while younger son Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) is struggling to cope with baseball and needs a strong father figure to help encourage him. Lauren works as a closet organiser, but her own personal life is just as rigidly structured and almost anally organised.
Jim and Lauren meet on a blind date that goes disastrously wrong when the venue is the local Hooters and he comes across as an obnoxious jerk. He seems to know all the waitresses by their first names, and they know his preferences. A later development reveals why Jim goes to that Hooters, which adds a poignant touch to his character and makes him seem a little more sympathetic.
But a mix up with their credit cards means they meet again. A series of unlikely contrivances then manages to bring the two families together again on a luxurious South African vacation for blended families. Once the film reaches the South African resort, it follows a predictable path as the initial animosity between Jim and Lauren soon develops into something stronger as they realise they have a lot more in common. Jim begins to bond with Lauren’s two sons, while Lauren begins to strike up a warm maternal relationship with his three girls. Meanwhile, under Lauren’s advice, Hilary also blooms as she tries to impress Jake (Zac Henri), the teenage son of another couple they meet at the resort.
The script comes from Ivan Menchell (lots of tv work on series like The Nanny, etc) and former actress turned first time feature film writer Clare Sera, but it is slightly bloated and predictable. Anyone who has seen the trailer will know where the film is headed. Blended touches on the theme of two families somehow uniting and forming one large happy family, a theme that has shaped the comedy Yours, Mine And Ours, the saccharine With Six You Get Eggroll, as well as the popular sitcom The Brady Bunch, etc. And at times this overly schmaltzy comedy could pass for the pilot of a new family friendly television sitcom. And given the more family friendly nature of the material, Sandler is happy enough to do away with much of his juvenile, puerile humour.
Blended is the third time Barrymore and Sandler have appeared together in sixteen years (following the superior The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates) and they have a great chemistry. Although not in the same league as the prickly pairing of Tracy and Hepburn, they bounce off each other well, and somehow Barrymore seems to bring out the best in Sandler. There is less of his familiar whining, obnoxious manchild here, as Sandler goes for something a little more sympathetic and vulnerable.
But Barrymore also shows a wonderful affinity for screwball comedy and is not afraid to take some risks with her screen image as she allows herself to be the butt of some embarrassing situations that are played for uncomfortable laughs. Wendi McLendon Covey (from Bridesmaids, tv series The Goldbergs, etc) has a scene stealing presence as Lauren’s sharp-tongued business partner.
The young stars also bring a special dynamic to the material, and it is almost as if they are in a different movie. In his first film role, Beckham plays Lauren’s precocious oldest son, and he looks like a younger Corey Feldman (for younger audiences, he was a teen star in the 80s in films like the classic coming of age tale Stand By Me and The Lost Boys, etc).
But there are also a number of annoying peripheral characters, including Sandler regular Kevin Nealon, who plays Eddy, a rich guy on his honeymoon with his attractive trophy wife Ginger (Jessica Lowe) and his surly teenage son Jake, who would rather be elsewhere until he spies Hilary.
The family’s guide to their holiday in paradise is Mfana (Abdoulage NGam), while Terry Crews plays the lounge singer Nickens, who keeps popping up at the most inconvenient times with his backing group, acting like a sort of Greek chorus to underscore certain moments, but he is annoying and unnecessary, and could easily have been cut from the film. South African cricketer Dale Steyn contributes a brief cameo as Jim tries to teach Tyler how to hit a baseball properly. And McHale is good as Lauren’s ex, a self-absorbed dead beat dad.
Blended is steeped in a sentimentality rare to Sandler’s filmography, but it is preferable to the overdose of puerile toilet humour that we have come to expect from his comedies . But it is also overlong and self indulgent, and there are many moments that smack of unnecessary padding. However, cinematographer Julio Macar (Wedding Crashers, etc) captures some of the harsh beauty of the South African landscapes and locations.