Film

'Blended': Sandler's Still Searching for His Sweet Spot

Reuniting Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore can't spark the magic long lost from the former comedian's flailing career.


Blended

Director: Frank Coraci
Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Terry Crews, Joel McHale
Length: 117 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Distributor: Warner Bros.
UK Release Date: 2014-09-29
US Release Date: 2014-08-26

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.

4

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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