To say that the new Adam Sandler movie, "Blended," is better than some of his other recent work -- "Jack and Jill," for example -- isn't saying much. After all, some natural disasters cause less damage than others. But none are a positive development.
OK, that's overly harsh to "Blended" -- though not to "Jack and Jill." But please understand the frustration. Some of us are old enough to recall a time when Sandler made movies that were authentically funny, and didn't merely earn laughs by reminding people of their most puerile instincts. We also remember acting work by Sandler that deserved real admiration-- remember the 2002 "Punch-Drunk Love"? Not to mention some classic moments on "Saturday Night Live" -- but now we're REALLY dating ourselves.
From Sandler's early, goofy, charming humor, we've traveled to a point where we're trying to analyze, in "Blended," whether his mocking of feminine hygiene products is better or worse than his jokes about a young boy's sexual explorations or a teen girl's futile efforts to boost her flat chest.
But there's something else disappointing about "Blended," which stars Sandler and Drew Barrymore (in their third collaboration) as single parents thrown together on an African family vacation. The fact is, there are actual sparks of sweetness, actual moments of tenderness, mostly thanks to Barrymore's sunny and grounded presence (one shudders to imagine this movie without her) and the relaxed chemistry between the stars. But the moments don't stay sweet. They'll end with something like Sandler loudly urinating. Or two rhinos copulating. Tee hee.
Sandler plays Jim, a widower with three daughters who works at a sporting-goods store. Barrymore is Lauren, divorced from her narcissistic husband and trying to juggle parenting two boys with running a closet-organizing service with her gal pal (Wendi McLendon-Covey). They first meet on a disastrous blind date. But, of course, they keep running into each other again.
Like at the drugstore, where Jim is buying sanitary products for his teen daughter (much hilarity ensues, including from the cashier, who dishes about her own reproductive system, as cashiers so often do when you're checking out) and Lauren is trying to replace a centerfold she's ripped up from her son's girlie magazine.
The coincidences keep happening, and so, eventually, and don't ask how -- director Frank Coraci and screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera don't lose sleep over plausibility -- Jim and Lauren are both in South Africa, not only in the same resort, but the same suite! They're appalled to discover each other there, but of course, there's much to be learned over the ensuing days, about parenting, friendship, romance, family and wildlife.
In case we didn't absorb those lessons, we're reminded of them by our singing -- and bumping, and grinding -- musical narrator, Terry Crews. There's also a not-very-funny side-plot involving a leering husband (Kevin Nealon) and a bride who expresses excitement by shaking her boobs (tee hee again). Not surprisingly, there is little attempt to depict real Africans.
The most promising scenes involve the children, especially Jim's daughters and their attempts to replace their late mother's presence (although these can veer toward the maudlin). There's a little blonde moppet called Lou, a middle daughter named Espn, after the network (OK, that's funny) and a tomboy teen named Larry, for Hilary (Jim clearly wants sons). We're supposed to believe everyone thinks she's a boy, but, really? She's played by glamorous Bella Thorne, disguised only by an unattractive haircut, but otherwise looking a lot like Keira Knightley.
Still, when Lauren, who's as happy to have daughters around as Jim is to have sons, gives Larry/Hilary a makeover at the salon, the scene unexpectedly warms the heart. And it reminds us that there's a fairly decent movie trying to breathe here, underneath the infantile humor. Maybe one day, Sandler will liberate that movie.
"Blended," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America "for crude and sexual content, and language." Running time: 117 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.