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Friday, May 23, 2014

Blended Review. It’s A lazy, Low-Energy Affair

 Review By: Brandon Wolfe

The devolution of Adam Sandler as a comedic great has been a long painful trudge for those of us who remember what a bolt from the blue he was in the ‘90s. Between SNL, ‘Billy Madison’, ‘Happy Gilmore’ and his comedy albums, Sandler offered a uniquely silly, often surreal voice that set him apart from his peers. Many comedians trafficked in juvenilia, but Sandler turned being stupid into something approaching a weirdo art form. Yet before long, Sandler got lazy, content in the knowledge that he could do essentially anything and the public would reward him with an easy $100 million each time out. The manic strangeness of ‘Billy Madison’ soon gave way to a stultifying mainstream blandness, the humor growing staler and more lowest-common-denominator with each outing.

Blended’ very much exemplifies what we now come to expect from an Adam Sandler vehicle. It’s a lazy, low-energy affair that offers only the easiest of jokes. Sandler coasts through it in his usual uniform of baggy polo shirts and shorts, mumbling things that sound amusing if you’re only half-listening. The film reteams Sandler for the third time with Drew Barrymore, his costar in the delightful ‘The Wedding Singer’ and the less delightful ’50 First Dates’. There are cute kids, pratfalls and boob jokes. You know the drill.

Sandler plays Jim Friedman, a widower who works as a manager for a sporting goods store (the rare latter-day Sandler character who isn’t portrayed as being fabulously wealthy). Jim is raising three girls and is starting to dip his toe back into the dating pool. He winds up on a blind date with Lauren Reynolds (Barrymore) at a Hooters, where the two quickly stake out a mutual dislike, largely predicated on Jim being a huge jerk for basically no reason. Lauren, a mother of two boys herself, is dealing with a distant, self-involved ex-husband (Joel McHale, idling in douche mode) and the sense that she isn’t doing right by her sons.

Through developments straight out of the dumbest sitcom imaginable, Jim and Lauren each end up with half of a luxurious trip to an African resort, discarded by Jim’s boss and Lauren’s best friend (Wendi McLendon-Covey), forcing the two families together as an uneasy unit. There they gradually forge a predictable bond, with Lauren giving Jim’s oldest daughter a makeover that rids her of the androgynous He-Man hairstyle Jim’s barber has saddled the poor girl with for years, while Jim teaches Lauren’s sons how to hit a baseball and box. You can guess where this is going, and rest assured it goes there.

There is no reason for the movie to take place in Africa, other than that Sandler has a long-standing tendency to have his films double as lavish paid vacations, and apparently wanted to go to Africa this time. Apart from some scenic views of African plains and wildlife, the movie is set almost entirely at the resort. It could have taken place at a campground in Anywhere, USA to the same effect.

It bears mentioning that ‘Blended’ is not quite as awful as its truly horrendous trailers made it seem. It has a somewhat refreshing lack of gross-out bodily-function humor (a surprise considering its opening shot is of the feet of several women as they use the restroom). Even more refreshing, the awful Nick Swardson, a Sandler mainstay for many years, is nowhere to be seen (replaced by a welcome, if underutilized Kevin Nealon). It also has a couple of scene-stealing roles in McLendon-Covey, as Barrymore’s hard-bitten gal pal, and Terry Crews as a hyper-gesticulating resort crooner, who functions as something of a Greek chorus in the film. But the film’s biggest asset is Barrymore, with whom Sandler does share a strange, yet genuine chemistry. The two of them don’t do anything to rise above the limp material, and Sandler isn’t remotely up for even the attempt, but there is a natural spark between the two that can’t be denied, and does help the movie go down smoother.

Honestly, in light of the atrocities of ‘Jack and Jill’ and the ‘Grown Ups’ films, ‘Blended’ almost counts as a minor triumph. It’s more of a toothlessly inoffensive family film than a brutally unfunny affront to humanity. On the contemporary Adam Sandler scale, that’s enough to land it in the win column.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe on Twitter at @ChiusanoWolfe.

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