For the past 10 years, the simplest metric for judging Adam Sandler comedies (not counting his artier forays with Paul Thomas Anderson or Judd Apatow) has been laziness. The scale ranges from the genuine invention and energy of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008) to the abject screwing around so sadly illustrated by Grown Ups (2010). By this measure, the slack but faintly amusing Just Go With It is one of Sandler’s more successful recent efforts.
Despite a few more laughs, though, Sandler continues, in his middle age, to celebrate wealth. He used to play dopes and slackers, and now he plays guys like Danny, a rich and inexplicably admired plastic surgeon, dopes held up as good guys because they’re financially successful and, well, they’re played by Sandler. Danny, who’s single, wears a fake wedding ring and uses various marriage sob stories to bed young women, but the movie makes great, clumsy effort to establish Danny’s secret goodness; he only sleeps around, for example, because he had his heart broken as a Wedding Singer-ish young man.
When Danny meets the gorgeous Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), they actually connect (off-screen, mostly). When she discovers the fake ring, he’s at a loss to explain himself. So, this being a dopey studio comedy, he lies and says he’s on the brink of divorce. Palmer demands proof, and soon he’s enlisting his office assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) to play the departing wife; eventually, her kids Maggie (Bailee Madison) and Michael (Griffin Gluck) are forced into the act, even taken on the road when the kids blackmail Danny into bankrolling a Hawaiian getaway for everyone.
As usual, Sandler remains a passive (or, again, maybe just lazy) performer, happy to cede the broadest shtick to friends like Nick Swardson, here going beyond the call of goofiness as Danny’s lecherous cousin who masquerades as Katherine’s new beau with an unyielding German accent. But Sandler is a little looser here, rambling with his gal Friday Aniston like a juvenile Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Their banter has little snap, but it does feel affectionate. Drew Barrymore remains the only Sandler love interest to connect convincingly with him, but Aniston comes closer than most.
They only have a few scenes to work up any kind of comic rhythm, though, because Sandler’s emerging old-guy conservatism dictates that it’s most important for Danny to connect not with either woman, but with Katherine’s children. In a refreshing change from the lisping treacle of the usual Sandler-movie moppets, though, Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck are funny comic performers. If they’re too polished and precocious, like so many movie kids, they’re also enjoyably odd, especially when they’re negotiating the terms of their vacation deal: Maggie wants to use an English accent, which is ridiculous, but pretty funny.
Maggie also inspires the film’s title, when she insists on the old improv rule of saying yes to any and all suggestions, which provides a convenient excuse for the absurd lies Danny and Katherine perpetuate throughout the trip to Hawaii. It’s also a clever nod to the use of improvisation in modern film comedy, although Sandler himself isn’t much good at it. As he’s gotten older, his broad comedies have begun to feel more improvised — but more in the sense of sloppy winging it rather than quick-fire, Will Ferrell-ish insanity. His movies are heavy on hanging out, light on comic inspiration.
Just Go With It injects a little fresh blood into the usual array of Sandler’s hangers-on (like singer Dave Matthews, who turns up again here) with those kids, and also Nicole Kidman, having fun in a bit part as Katherine’s haughty college rival. Like all of the supporting characters, she’s an utter cartoon, but it’s nice to see Team Sandler’s simpleminded mockery directed at someone thin and white. Elsewhere, the movie tries to generate laughs from the kids’ fat, lazy, ethnic nanny (and her equally fat, lazy, and differently ethnic Hawaiian counterpart). Katherine may not be as rich as Danny, but she has suspiciously wealthy ideas about how hard it is to buy good help.
This all seems hypocritical coming from a creative team that so heartily and consistently endorses hiring your buddies, taking a trip somewhere sunny, and calling it a movie: director Dennis Dugan has just gone with it on most Sandler productions these days. Just Go With It is less sluggish than Sandler at his worst, and, for that matter, less self-pitying than Aniston at hers. But it just barely gets its star up off his couch.