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There are few things that strike fear in the heart of a critic like the prospect of seeing an Adam Sandler movie. Maybe anything involving Michael Bay or Kristen Stewart and vampires. (Thankfully, that last one is blissfully over, so hopefully no danger of that from here on out, Gods be praised!) Indeed, one of the perks of being head critic is that I typically don’t have to see everything out there- just one a week, tops. Or more, if I’m up to it and it’s a busy week. Otherwise, I can just say no and be done with the riff-raff I wouldn’t normally see.
Then I was at the movies earlier this week, and the power went out, which is a pretty rare thing for me to experience at the movies, so rare I can only think of a few times in all of my substantial movie viewing over the years that it’s even happened. Well, happen it did, and because of the wait- which was hardly worth it, as it turned out (see my take on that movie here)- I got a free movie out of it, and the offer to see another at the time, if I could do it. I had the day off, so I took them up on it, but what movie to choose?
I’d seen the movies I wanted to see that were available multiple times (“X-Men” and “Godzilla”), which left only one choice: “Blended,” starring, you guessed it: Adam Sandler. Should I take the risk? On the plus side, if it could be said that there were “good” Sandler movies, then “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates,” both featuring Drew Barrymore, were certainly among them. Might “Blended” be a third-time-the-charm scenario? I decided to find out. After all, it was free, so there was literally nothing on the line for me whatsoever, and I still get a freebie to boot.
So, I figure, what the hell? I like Barrymore enough to watch her in most anything (though that theory has certainly been challenged over the years), and the prospect of the African setting and animals and what have you didn’t hurt. Worse comes to worse, I could always leave, after all. So, into “Blended” I went.
Now, mind you, I didn’t expect much. Adam Sandler doesn’t exactly make movies for the critics, and I didn’t exactly expect something as edgy as, say, “Punch-Drunk Love,” where Sandler at least had a first-rate director going for him. This was likely going to be by-the-numbers family fare, at best. At worst, it would be just terrible, and I would bail. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Well, I’m vaguely happy to say that I made it through the entire thing relatively unscathed. Indeed, I’m quite certain that I laughed considerably more at this than I did at the movie I actually came there to see, “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” and that’s much more my style of humor- or so I thought. Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s not exactly the “Citizen Kane” of comedy, but it’s not trying to be. It may, however, be the best comedy centered on a trip to Africa I’ve ever seen, for whatever that’s worth. (It may also be the only Africa-set comedy I’ve ever seen, but I digress, as I’m trying to be nice here. Free, remember?)
Frankly, I was a little surprised at the complexity of what was going on in “Blended.” Sandler plays a widower who’s back in the game after a happy life that includes three adorable and quirky daughters who he is doing his best to raise under difficult circumstances. The film opens with him on the first blind date he’s been on since the loss, and it’s with Barrymore’s character, who’s going through a nasty divorce that involved her ex-husband (Joel McHale, of “The Soup,” oozing with sliminess) cheating on her. It does not go well, by any stretch of the imagination, and a follow-up date is not in the cards.
That’s a surprising amount of pathos already for a Sandler movie, and it caught me off-guard to see him nicely underplaying things. Both his and Barrymore’s characters ring true, and the film takes it’s time letting us get to know them and their kids and their distinctive lack of parenting skills. Sandler is hopeless with his girls and Barrymore is at wit’s end with her boys, who are quite the handful, literally and figuratively, as one is on the verge of puberty and exhibiting some decidedly icky behavior, if you know what I mean and I think that you can figure it out.
So, clearly, these two are perfect for one another, at least in the sense that Sandler would be right at home with Barrymore’s boys and vice versa for her with his girls. Does the film take a little too long on the front and back end setting things up? Big time. As with one too many comedies in this post-Apatow/Farrelly Brothers world we live in, comedies have gotten entirely too long as of late, and no one wants, or should want to see, a nearly two-hour Adam Sandler movie. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that, once the would-be couple hit Africa, the film takes off and is a nice breath of fresh air for the entire African part of the film. Breezy and fun, with some honest-to-God LOL moments, I genuinely liked “Blended” for this stretch of the film, and tolerated it for the rest, especially as the film was at least attempting some decent character development and to not go in the expected directions whenever it could. We all know as viewers that these two are destined to be together, but the film wants them to earn it, at least, and they do. I can live with that.
Sure, there’s some clichés here and there. You can see the initially fugly-haired and god-awfully-dressed daughter- played by decidedly not ugly Disney girl Bella Thorne- Hilary’s impending and inevitable makeover transformation coming a mile away. But at the same time, the film is smart enough to justify it because dad works at a sporting goods store, so he gets all of the girls track suits and the like because of the discount and takes them to the barber he uses because he doesn’t have the sense to take them to a proper salon, hence the bad clothes and haircuts- a cute touch.
But then there’s the amusing bits with the ad-hoc Greek Chorus done African style, with Terry Crews as the lead singer and the Thathoo Harmony Group backing him up, as, in between singing actual songs, they also sing insults at the various guests and crack wise in general in hilarious fashion. Think Ladysmith Black Mambazo, of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” fame spouting out good-natured insults, and you’ll get the idea. I laughed at them every time they cropped up, even in the unlikely bit at the end.
There’s also some cool moments with the animals that are pretty funny, too, including a memorable bit with a band of monkeys. And by a “band,” I mean that literally, as the monkeys play instruments and the like. Hey, it is an Adam Sandler movie. But still, if the sight of a monkey band rocking out- or even the very thought of it- doesn’t make you smile, you need to lighten up a bit.
Sadly, the film has tanked somewhat, as I think Sandler’s films are starting to become a bit rote and predictable by now, and the seams are finally starting to show at the box office. This is certainly understandable, and I’m not going to lie and say I would have seen the film outside of maybe catching it on cable, had it not been free. Nor will I say you should rush out and see it in the theaters now. Indeed, a dollar theater, rental or seeing it on cable is probably the best route to go if you’re even remotely interested in seeing this.
But if the premise caught your attention, and you have an affection for Barrymore or even Sandler, then you’ll probably like this just fine. It’s the veritable definition of a guilty pleasure, but I had fun in spite of myself, which actually saved the day, given my earlier experiences at the movies that afternoon. As such, I’m going to give “Blended” an appropriate B+.
It’s overlong and sometimes a bit too cutesy for its own good, but it’s also reasonably funny, with Sandler’s usual motley crew of hit-or-miss supporting players helping out whenever they can. (I particularly liked “Bridesmaids” vet Wendi McLendon-Covey as Barrymore’s cynical pal and Shaquille O’Neal as Sandler’s co-worker.) It might not make your day, but it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon, all things considered. And isn’t that the most you could expect for a movie like this?