Adam Sandler has some racket going. The comedian’s paid millions to vacation in exotic resort locales under the guise of acting – Hawaii is a Sandler “hotspot,” hosting Just Go With It and 50 First Dates, as examples. Sandler, the executive producer, routinely casts Hollywood’s prettiest actresses as his leading ladies, from Salma Hayek (the Grown-Up films) and Kate Beckinsale (Click) to Katie Holmes (Jack & Jill) and Winona Ryder (Mr. Deeds). Few have called Sandler on this posh and pampered formula he has cooked up, so who can blame him for returning to this well time after time. If it ain’t broke – and box office receipts suggest it isn’t – there’s no need to fix.
Sandler dips his hand into multiple familiar wells for the charming and sweet romantic comedy Blended. Sure, there’s the forced trip to an egregiously luxurious resort – this time as part of a jungle safari in Africa. But Blended stretches even farther back into Sandler’s catalogue by pairing him once again with Drew Barrymore, his adorably off-kilter co-star from 50 First Dates and The Wedding Singer. So help me, it works. Blended is being marketed primarily on the chemistry shared between Barrymore and Sandler, and with good reason. Their interplay, their spark… the palpable on-screen appreciation they seem to have for each other wraps Blended in a welcomingly warm coat of sugar that helps the bulk of Sandler’s silliness go down.
Barrymore, in fact, has a strange – but welcome – effect on Sandler that his other equally beautiful co-stars can’t (or haven’t) mustered. She seems to tame Sandler’s idiocy with her own brand of hippie-dippie, peace-and-love acceptance. The absurd man-child humor and incessant body-fluid jokes that suffocate the potential in movies like That’s My Boy or Grown Ups is tempered under Barrymore’s watch. In its absence, Blended makes room for obvious but half-earnest parental commentary. There’s familial bonding instead of flatulence jokes. Dare I say, Blended is the closest thing Adam Sandler has made to a family-friendly film since Bedtime Stories (overlooking, of course, the animated Hotel Transylvania, which doesn’t fit in the Happy Madison oeuvre).
That’s because screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera imagine Sandler and Barrymore as parents. We meet Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Barrymore) on a disastrous blind date. They can’t get away from each other quick enough, but fate keeps pushing them into each others’ paths. Jim, we learn, is a widowed father trying to raise three girls, and his influence is turning them into androgynous tomboys. (Shake It Up cutie Bella Thorne is unrecognizable as Sandler’s eldest daughter, Hilary, until her eventual transformation from duckling into swan.) Lauren, of course, has two boys… both of whom are more mature than her irresponsible ex (Joel McHale, doing his best Joel McHale).
Blended would like to get these two on an African trip, and it shoehorns that part of the plot, but not before giving us enough time with each family to recognize and chuckle about the contemporary problems Jim and Lauren face. By the time Blended reaches the Dark Continent for the hook of its plot, we know enough about our leads to actually care whether they make a connection or not – and the undeniable chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore goes a long way toward selling the movie’s goal.
Let’s not get carried away now. Blended isn’t When Harry Met Sally, and director Frank Coraci hasn’t turned into Rob Reiner in the years since The Zookeeper or Here Comes the Boom. Blended still grabs cheap physical gags from Sandler’s bag of tricks. But they are undercut with sentimentality this time around, and shock-and-awe supporting roles that normally go to David Spade or Rob Schneider now sing in the hands of the undeniably talented Wendi McLendon-Covey or Terry Crews (who steals scene after scene as an amorous lounge singer at the African resort).
Blended won’t win awards. Thanks to the glut of superhero sagas, it likely won’t even win the box office weekend. But it will appeal to a proven audience who appreciate what Sandler and Barrymore do together, and might even surprise a few skeptics who dismissed the 47-year-old comedian as a viable leading man. Because after scraping the bottom of the barrel in multiple, immature Grown Ups movies, Sandler has grown up for Blended. Temporarily, at least.