Here’s the funny thing about Adam Sandler; when he was a featured player on TV’s SNL he often looked embarrassed or simply uncomfortable. The funny voices either amused or annoyed, and he never appeared adept at ad-libbing without looking down and smiling as though he was about to break into giggles. Out of all the SNL cast members Sandler seemed to be the least accomplished and certainly the one least likely to make it. The Hanukah Song went a long way.
Yet when Billy Madison hit the screens in 1995, despite some of the worst reviews for a comedy ever, fans lined up. In fact, Sandler’s big screen success was quite phenomenal. Happy Gilmore followed then The Wedding Singer – which actually garnered a few positive reviews – then The Waterboy. It didn’t really make sense and confounded reviewers. How could someone so seemingly ordinary with, as Roger Ebert once wrote, “… Not an attractive screen presence,” become so incredibly popular? Perhaps it was that very ordinariness that teenagers went for; easy, obvious laughs delivered in a simple plot by someone with no obvious star quality. His unbelievable success bucked the trend of the entertainment industry and served as a reminder that in Hollywood, as writer William Goldman famously observed, no one knows nothing.
Billy Madison was almost twenty years ago, which means that those twenty-somethings who stood in line en masse for a ticket are now in their forties, and, generally speaking, people in their forties don’t go to the movies as much as those in their twenties. Sandler’s box-office reign has certainly dropped, but while his fan base hasn’t grown, he’s still a force. How else could you explain the success of Grown-Ups and the fact that something so awful could actually inspire a sequel? Yes, it’s true, Punch-Drunk Love is actually a good film, but no one ever really thinks of the 2002 oddity as a typical Adam Sandler movie, and certainly those who loved Billy Madison and The Waterboy would never be caught dead with a copy of Punch-Drunk Love in their Sandler collection.
Having said that, the one element in Sandler’s film career that seemed to click with fans and for those who, like Roger Ebert, never found the comic an attractive screen presence was Drew Barrymore. For some reason, the pairing in The Wedding Singer then 50 First Dates worked. And now here in Blended the two are paired for the third time, and while it would be difficult to say that what the performers have together is anything resembling chemistry in the traditional Hollywood sense, something, somehow is working.
Like most of Sandler’s films, Blended doesn’t actually have a story; it’s a concept, a comic situation that begins with the question What if…? What if two single parents who detest each other find themselves thrown together with their children on a vacation in an exotic locale? In Blended, Sandler plays Jim, a floor salesman at Dick’s Sporting Goods who takes his blind date, Barrymore, to Hooters. It doesn’t work out. Then, by all the contrivances that can only happen in a situation comedy, the two families end up in Africa in the same hotel, sharing the same rooms. What follows? Comic mayhem and hi-jinks among the lions and rhinos, and eventually true love with the pairing of the mom and dad from the two families. And if anyone thinks the above is all a plot-spoiler, did you really think it was going to end any other way?
Drew Barrymore has such a winning manner about her that unless she’s playing against type, which she certainly isn’t here, then you’re going to like her the moment you meet her. Sandler is the relatable working-class guy with no discernable note of class, plus he’s totally clueless when it comes to raising three girls on his own, two of whom are supposed to look like boys – even though they don’t; not really – with bad barbershop haircuts and the youngest who he has named Espn after his favorite cable station. What’s comforting about the characters is that they’re all likable in one way or another with recognizable comedic quirks that will be challenged and overcome by the film’s conclusion.
Everything abut Blended is obvious; the situations, the punch-lines, and the comic conclusions. You just know that Barrymore’s son who can’t hit a baseball at the beginning of the film is going to hit a homerun by the end, and you just know that Sandler’s oldest ugly duckling daughter is going to get a makeover and turn in to a hot, fabulous swan. “What made you think you could tart up my daughter?” demands an appalled Sandler. And you just know that the mis-matched Barrymore and Sandler will get together in the final reel.
The good news is that out of most of Sandler’s predicable, one-note, concept comedies, Blended is perhaps the least mean-spirited and most family-friendly – the crass humor is at a minimum. In fact, you could say Sandler has kind of grown – at least, that is, in this film – and it’s Barrymore’s overall charm that has everything to do with it. Blended is still no Punch-Drunk Love, but fortunately it’s no Grown-Ups, either. The forty-something crowd who reminisce of the early days when they were in their twenties and continue to quote lines from Billy Madison and do impressions of The Waterboy as if they were both genuine comedy classics wouldn’t want it any other way.
MPAA rating: PG-13 Length: 117 Minutes Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)