Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore pair up for the third time with 2014’s Blended, an antiquated comedy that mines the broad appeal of the former and relies on the warmth of the latter to get by. This picture is directed by Frank Coraci, who worked with Barrymore and Sandler on the delightful 1998 rom-com The Wedding Singer.
Sadly, the easy charm and retro delight of that film is nowhere to be found in this deadly effort. With a screenplay by Clare Sera and Ivan Menchell, Blended continues witlessly along the everyman strain Sandler has propagated and works in rigid gender stereotypes, syrupy romance, irritating kids, and a condescending sweep of Africa that’s rather unpleasant.
Barrymore is Lauren, a divorced mother of two sons. She’s on a blind date with Jim (Sandler), who lost his wife to cancer and is the father of three girls. The date doesn’t go well and the two return to their suburban family lives until fate brings them together once more. This time, they wind up mixing up their credit cards.
In typical movie fashion, this somehow leads to a trip to Africa with both families. They clash frequently, at least at first, but the “magic” of the continent leads the two clans to realize the many things they have in common.
Barrymore’s Lauren is juggling life with two boys and is over her head because she has two boys. Blended shows her being much better with girls, as she knows how to dress them up and teach them to be like ladies. She sings sweetly and smiles politely while she endures Jim’s bleary-eyed ream of apologies, invectives and slushy put-ons.
Jim is, of course, over his head because he has three girls. He ignorantly gives them what the screenplay believes to be “boys’ cuts,” condemning them to being misidentified as sons in spite of having very feminine features. In the land of Blended, having short hair really means you’re a dude. Only a spa day with Barrymore’s character can recover your femininity so as to lure the hot, distant boy.
It’s lucky for Jim that Lauren’s lads are so damn emasculated without a solid male presence in their lives. Sure, the ex-husband (Joel McHale) is in the picture. But he’s always ducking his fatherly duties in favour of that incoming phone call or whatever other excuses dickhead fathers make in movies like this. Sandler’s character gets to fill in the gaps, much to the delight of everyone.
In a sense, Blended peddles the most heartbreaking kind of fantasy. Worse still, it does this without any real difficulties. Things “blend together” so well it’s indecent, but apparently that’s part of the allure of an Africa where everyone’s as blissful as the help in a Disney movie. Sadly, even the Wardrobe in Beauty and the Beast is treated with more pride than Blended’s African citizens.
Every single African character in this film is a servant. As soon as events swing to the continent, an exultant cluster of resort staff joyfully warble to incoming guests. Terry Crews has the honour of playing the leader of this crew and he pops up sporadically to underscore the action with more singing. There’s also Abdoulaye N’Gom, who never steps outside of his sunnily sycophantic box.
There really is no reason for this picture to have designated Africa as a destination for these two exasperating families. It could have just as easily dumped its trash in Hawaii or perhaps a sinister ski lodge somewhere in Siberia. There are animals to look at in Africa, which is a plus, but none of them get close enough to Sandler to gnaw off his ankle.
Blended peddles its material with a feebleness seldom seen outside of the Happy Madison realm. One imagines a Full House episode handling the situation with more style. But Sandler, never aching for remuneration, again proves his pluck as one of the most unpleasantly unexceptional “comic” actors on the planet. That he once again found a way to drag Barrymore into the morass is a damn shame.