Blended marks the third onscreen pairing between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, who co-starred previously in The Wedding Singer (1998) and 50 First Dates (2004). The two should have quit while ahead because the third time’s definitely not the charm. Blended is pure pablum, loosely masquerading as a “romantic comedy,” though its sorely lacking in both those areas.
Written by Ivan Menchell, who served as a writer-producer on TV shows such as The Nanny with Fran Drescher and Jonas, starring the Jonas brothers, and first-time feature film writer Clare Sera, the script doesn’t stray too far from formulaic sitcom fare. Director Frank Coraci—who helmed The Wedding Singer and other Sandler projects The Waterboy and Click—also goes out of his way to emphasize cheap laughs and unoriginal plot points, and to pander to blended families (i.e., stepparents, half-siblings, divorcees and the widowed).
Product placement is rampant throughout, too, noticeable from the film’s opening scenes. Divorced mom, Lauren (Drew Barrymore), calls her babysitter from a public bathroom stall, complaining that her blind date has taken her to Hooters for dinner. Meanwhile, Jim (Sandler) waits at the table in his best Dick’s Sporting Goods green work shirt and, in familiar Sandler man-child fashion, he polishes off Lauren’s beer while she’s in the restroom.
Since Jim’s a regular at the establishment (but not for reasons you might think), a group of Hooter girls want to ensure the date is memorable, so they deliver a plate of cheese sticks in the shape of a heart. (If that doesn’t spell out romance, we sure don’t know what does.) Lauren and Jim decide that they never want to see each other again, and while we’d be okay with that, then the cast wouldn’t have been able to shoot on location in South Africa for the second half of the film.
In a convoluted turn of events, Lauren’s bff and business partner, Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey in a throwaway role), has a falling out with her boyfriend, Dick (namesake of the sporting goods store and Jim’s boss), and they cancel a planned family escape to South Africa. Separately, Jim and his three tomboy daughters (played by Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrman and Alyvia Alyn Lind) and Lauren and her two hellion boys (Braxton Beckham and Kyle Red Silverstein) take over the reservation at the resort.
The two families are forced to share the gargantuan suite, and slowly begin to mesh after a rough start. Lauren takes Jim’s eldest daughter, Larry (Thorne), under her wing for a desperately needed makeover, first getting rid of her Prince Valiant haircut, which was one of the funniest lines in the film. Lauren also indulges Espn (the middle daughter who can’t let go of her late mother) and dotes on the scene-stealing little one (Lind). Jim, in turn, proves that he’s not such a bad guy, taking an interest in mentoring and spending time with Lauren’s boys, even coaching the youngest son (Silverstein) in baseball, which is something the boys’ deadbeat father (a perfectly smarmy Joel McHale) never does.
Blended employs the use of weak physical comedy, especially in the African scenes: There are ostrich races, a silly parasailing misadventure, animals humping and a mis-booked couples massage. Stereotypes abound in the “African” actors’ roles, particularly with Terry Crews as an animated bandleader who pops in and out of scenes like Jonathan Richman in Something About Mary. With his accent wavering somewhere between Jamaican and South African, Crews plays the buffoon to the hilt, dressed in crazy outfits (not traditional African garb) as he performs his pop song-and-dance routines. And although it took longer than expected, Crews shows off his pectoral muscles flexing trick, as he’s done onscreen before. Fairing only slightly better is Abdoulaye NGom, who plays the perpetually happy resort tour guide-concierge.
Forced sentimentality usually never works, but that doesn’t stop Blended from pulling plays from the rom-com handbook. No one’s completely surprised when Lauren picks “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to lull the baby to sleep (which is what the girls’ mom used to sing) or when Jim shows up at Lauren’s door with flowers, only to be greeted by her jerk ex-husband, Mark. Despite the likability of both Barrymore and Sandler as caring parents, their onscreen chemistry is barely palpable.
The film aspires to be a higher-budgeted version of the Brady Bunch camping trip to the Grand Canyon or vacation in Hawaii (although TV’s best-known blended family was way more subtle with its humor). Instead, this latest Sandler-Barrymore pairing falls somewhere between a South African travelogue and an infomercial for Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hooters and blended families, but not succeeding on any of those counts.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.
Director: Frank Coraci
Writers: Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale, Abdoulaye Ngom, Jessica Lowe, Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Braxton Beckham, Kyle Red Silverstein
Release Date: May 23, 2014