Adam Sandler is a pretty damn good actor. No, I’m not saying as much based on his rather uninspired—even for him —performance in Blended. While the Saturday Night Live veteran usually has the good sense to re-up his credibility with a dramatic indie or a smart comedy every few years, it’s been half a decade now since Sandler made something that carried even the chance of being daring. Since he took a big swing and miss with Funny People in 2009, a film bolstered by the actor’s presence rather than suffering from it, he’s made Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Jack and Jill, That’s My Boy, Grown Ups 2, and now Blended, a tired attempt to bring back his waning fan base by calling back to past successes.
Do you even remember the Sandler that made The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates with Drew Barrymore? If not, you won’t find any evidence of him here. Blendedis one of the better bad movies Sandler has made in his now lengthy career, but it’s still a disappointing endeavor for anyone who believes the actor could have the best of both comedy and drama if he really tried—maybe even financial success and kudos from critics. He doesn’t have to make a bad movie for every good one (or the untenable five to one ratio he’s been working); he just needs to find the right people and projects, and hopefully he soon will.
For now, though, we have another money grab. Blended takes the simple formula of a conventional romantic comedy (man and woman, when forced to spend time together, fall in love) and makes it as convoluted as possible. Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Barrymore) first meet on a blind date set up by an unknown source. Jim takes her to Hooters and can’t stop watching sports. She, with good reason, can’t stand him for taking her to such a crude restaurant and then avoiding engaging with her at the most basic level. The date ends, but the two run into each other again by chance. Their bond slowly develops, while masked by a thinly veiled hatred for one another’s clear deficits as a parent, and then takes a leap forward when they somehow end up on the same family vacation.
Forgetting for a hot second (or the nearly two hour length of the film, as would be necessary to fully engage with the nonsensical farce) that Jim and Lauren both buy their vacation from the same source, or, more accurately, Jim buys it from his boss and Lauren buys it from her boss’ friend who did not buy anything yet somehow can sell her “part” of the package to whomever she so pleases, Blended is a rather innocent family film. Well, it would be an innocent family film if Sandler (in his role as producer) could be convinced to lose some of the lewder moments he thinks his fans still want to see.
The characters form a rather touching, if predictable, tale. Barrymore plays a mother who, for once, is not made out to be inept or illogical. She doesn’t need help as much as her boys need a father figure to put in the time. It’s not her fault her younger son can’t hit a baseball or her older boy can’t handle his emotions in check when it comes to protecting his momma. Jim, meanwhile, is so out of touch with his feminine side his middle daughter is named Espn—yes, just like ESPN. It’s later explained her mother was a bit of Tomboy (and a sports fan), but it doesn’t function as a device to outline his fathering issues if it would’ve been just as big a problem were their mother still around.
None of this is helped along by Sandler’s lazy portrayal of a man who’s supposed to be trying. Sandler has used his lackadaisical nature to great effect before, producing some memorably lethargic characters who are moving in their melancholy. Jim is not this man. He’s supposed to be falling in love with a new woman, and while the beats are well placed within the script, Sandler gives them no aide on his own. Jim is well-defined on the page, and Barrymore helps carry her weak counterpart through to the finish. But the man just never comes to life the way he did in the duo’s past few movies.
It’s a testament to Barrymore and director Frank Coraci—who’s worked with Sandler on some of his better movies, including The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, and Click—the film ends up as pleasant as it does. The locations lend a hand as well, providing a pretty box to present the less dazzling film itself, even though they’re clearly there to sell families on a trip to Africa. Yet Blended primarily works because it trims much of the fat usually carried in Sandler’s studio comedies. Some of it still creeps up, like a brief but gratuitous shot of fornicating rhinos, but for the most part Coraci keeps a lid on some of the more immature elements prone to pop up where Sandler does.
The special features are also mostly sans crudity. Though plentiful, each behind-the-scenes featurette is a brief one to three minutes in length and packs little new material. Instead, they offer an even more alluring travel package, considering you get to see Adam Sandler play with a baby tiger and cute kids play with even cuter animals. The gag reel is surprisingly tame for a movie with plenty of bizarre moments, and the deleted scenes are mostly alternate takes. One interesting element many observant moviegoers may have already picked up: the ostriches Sandler rides at one point in the film? Those are motion capture actors wearing saddles. So yes, Adam Sandler rode a human being for that scene.
Luckily, Sandler’s next film brings a long-awaited challenge for the aging comedian. In Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children, Sandler finds himself rubbing up against the Academy’s door. It’s unlikely he himself will compete, but the film itself should ride its director’s coattails to some solid impressions from voters. Only time will tell if it’s enough to end the parade of piddly pictures he’s been stringing together since his last actual acting effort, but perhaps it can be the doorway to a revelation, and Sandler can finally “blend” his two worlds together.