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by Peter Sobczynski

"What Did South Africa Ever Do To Deserve This? Oh, yeah. . ."
1 stars

Early on in the proceedings of "Blended," we learn that Jim, the latest in the never-ending string of doofy, goofy man-children played by Adam Sandler when he needs to fatten his coffers by $20 million or so with minimal effort, is a widower who lost his wife to cancer and is on his first date in decades. This bit of information, which is imparted with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull, is presumably meant to humanize him in the eyes of some viewers right up front so that they will be a little more forgiving of the braying idiocies that he will be indulging in over the next two hours and which even he has theoretically outgrown. And yet, when I heard that, I all i could think about when I heard this is that at least one person connected with this story, either on the screen or in the audience, was presumably able to leave the proceedings with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.

That may seem like a nasty crack and while I agree that it is not the most tasteful or dignified comment that I could have come up with, but I daresay that anyone who actually sits through this thing from start to finish might think that I was being extraordinarily kind towards it because "Blended" is an absolute horror for each and every one of its 117 minutes. In fact, the nicest thing that I can think of to say about it is that it is perhaps slightly better and more cohesive than such recent Sandler misfires as "Just Go With It," "Jack & Jill" and the "Grown Ups" saga. Then again, I suppose it could be argued that this one is even worse in the long run than those lazy time-wasters because while they were blatantly little more than failed sketch ideas put before the camera in order to give Sandler and his buddies a quick payday, this one takes a premise that just might have worked and squanders it on an end product that is almost offensive in its awfulness.

The film reunites Sandler with Drew Barrymore for the third time (following "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates") and finds them playing a couple of single parents struggling to raise their kids, each of whom has been doled out a single personality quirk to differentiate them from the others. Jim (Sandler) is the aforementioned widower and his brood includes Hilary (Bella Thorne), whom everyone inexplicably mistakes for a boy because of a slightly unflattering haircut despite otherwise resembling a teen queen of the highest order, Espn (Emma Fuhrmann)--and no, that is not a typo--still talks to the spirit of her dead mother while Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) is caught in the throes of trying to be the most adorable little girl on the planet, though her knowledge of "The Walking Dead" and the word "vagina" seems a little advanced for an ordinary moppet. Meanwhile, Lauren (Barrymore) is a recent divorcee trying to raise her two sons in the face of the the younger Brendan (Braxton Beckham) being all messed up because his lazy dad (Joel McHale) isn't there to teach him to hit a baseball and the older Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) being an overly aggressive and psychosexually twisted weirdo who seems to be about one quiver shy of a revival of "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

Anyway, after going out on a disastrous blind date at Hooters (and more about that in a bit) and a couple of subsequent and equally argumentative encounters, Jim and Lauren know in their hearts that they dislike everything about each other and never want to be in the same room together for as long as they live. Then, through machinations so convoluted that I am still at a loss to fully explain them, the two families wind up on the same Africa safari vacation and staying in the same elaborate two-bedroom suite. At first, the two families are at constant odds with each other but in a stunning turn of events, they begin to come together with Jim and Lauren helping each other's kids with their personal problems (Hilary gets a makeover, Brendan gets batting practice, etc. . . ) and gradually--gradually (like I said, it runs nearly two solid hours)--begin to realize that they may be right for each other after all.

Compared to the likes of "Jack & Jill" or "Grown Ups," the basic premise of "Blended"--watching two families come together as one under wacky circumstances--is not the worst idea for a film but not only do director Frank Coraci (the longtime Sandler cohort who previously worked with him and Barrymore on "The Wedding Singer") and screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera not only have no idea of what to do with it, the things that they actually do are so implausible, impractical and unfunny that the whole thing takes on the flavor of an exceptionally perplexing practical joke. On the most basic level, it doesn't work for all the usual reasons that an Adam Sandler vehicle doesn't work--the jokes aren't funny with many of them relying on the mere mention of the word "lesbian" to score instant laughs (I do not necessarily object to the use of "lesbian" as a punchline--only the fact that the punchlines in question are so insipid), the stabs at rank sentiment are absurd, the product placement makes one long for the subtlety of the James Bond films (besides Hooters and ESPN, there is also numerous mentions of Dick's Sporting Goods, presumably so that Sandler could score some free equipment) and Sandler's one-note doofiness is so grating that when the other characters talk about his essential goodness and decency, it feels as if they are all undergoing a mass delusion.

This is all par for the course, as I said, but "Blended" goes out of its way to be as unendurable as possible. There is a sweet story at heart here that the film strangely attempts to undercut at every turn with sophomoric moments that destroy whatever credibility it might have had. There is one scene, for example, where Sandler and Barrymore run into each other over their morning coffee and commiserate about their kids in a way that feels genuine and unforced but the capper for this bit involves a shot of a couple of indifferently-rendered CGI rhinos humping away in the background for no particular reason. Later on, Barrymore has a sweet scene with Sandler's still-traumatized middle daughter and while it is schmaltzy as all get out, she makes it work as well as one could possibly hope. However, that moment is squandered by having Sandler jump out and scream at her at the top of his lungs as a joke. With a story like this, you can either embrace or skewer the sentiment but "Blended" tries to have it both ways and winds up floundering throughout.

Another strange problem with "Blended" is its complete lack of any comedic rhythm, an affliction brought on by the laborious setups that are provided to even the most trivial gags. Take, for example, the botched first date at Hooters that I alluded to earlier. On the surface, it seems like the kind of idiotic move that a character played by Adam Sandler would make and if it had just left things at that, no one would have likely raised any questions about it. However, as the film goes on, it seems compelled to explain his motives in excruciating detail so that what might have seemed like an odious move now seems like the sweetest and most heartfelt thing in the world. In other words, it now has been overloaded with all the things needed for an Adam Sandler punchline--overt product placement, T&A, a bit of grossness (this time involving some spit-up French onion soup) and ham-fisted sentiment--but none of which adds to the story or the laugh count. Virtually every joke in the film is strangely embroidered in the same way and as a result, a film that should have been as fleet as possible not only runs two hours (with the characters not even hitting Africa until roughly 40-minutes into it) but moves at such a turgid pace that it makes the works of Bela Tarr feel like "Airplane!" by comparison.

As for the storied Sandler-Barrymore pairing, the third time is the charmless here. Although "The Wedding Singer" is hardly a good movie by any standard, it is still one of the best of the straightforward Sandler films and most of that was due to the undeniable chemistry between the two stars. Their reteaming in "50 First Dates" was less successful but the two still demonstrated enough charm in their scenes together to almost make you forget how revolting everything else about it was. This time around, it seems as if they figured that the two of them together would be enough to overcome any story deficiencies but it turns out to be a losing battle--Sandler is an obnoxious boor throughout while Barrymore, normally the merriest of actresses working today, is unable to make anything out of the dramatic hash she has been asked to sling here. There are a couple of brief flashes where they click, like the coffee scene I mentioned earlier, but for the most part, they both seem as if they wish they were anywhere else but there. The only performer here that really shines is Terry Crews, who serves as the film's Greek chorus in an occasionally witty move that nevertheless doesn't make up for the otherwise questionable racial attitudes on display the rest of the time.

Since it is a long weekend, many of you out there may have the urge to head out and take in a movie. At this time, there are a number of strong options to choose from at the multiplex. For those with a taste for big-screen blockbusters, there is the stunningly effective revamp of "Godzilla" and while I had no use for it, fans of the superhero genre will probably enjoy "X-Men: Days of Future Past." For those looking for something off the beaten path, there is "The Dance of Reality," the haunting first film in 24 years from legendarily surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky, and James Gray's powerful "The Immigrant," with its incredible lead performance from Marion Cotillard. My point is that there are any number of movies out there that will amuse, move and entertain you this weekend no matter what you are in the mood for and if you, for whatever reason, decide to go see "Blended" instead, you are, in the parlance of the street, a moron and deserve exactly what you will be getting.

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originally posted: 05/23/14 12:42:11
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User Comments

8/14/14 Mario is the Best HOLY CRAP!! Even Grown Ups 2 is better than this! WORST MOVIE EVER!!! 1 stars
5/24/14 Bob Dog Not Sandler's best. (Note: review headline joke is in poor taste.) 3 stars
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  23-May-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Aug-2014


  DVD: 26-Aug-2014

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