DIRECTOR: Frank Coraci,
CAST: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Bella Thorne, Braxton Beckham, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kyle Red Silverstein, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Emma Fuhrmann, Jessica Lowe, Zak Henri
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
IN THEIR third onscreen pairing, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore play single parents who find themselves sharing a family holiday in Africa.
There are cellphones, fleeting acknowledgments of same-sex couples, and other signs of the 21st century in Blended, but the movie is as old-school a family rom-com as Yours, Mine and Ours.
Embodying the same whole-someness that has informed most of his screen work, it feels like a tentative next step in Sandler’s evolving screen persona, one that has gone from good-hearted dolt to bumbling man-child to middle-aged father. The feature reunites the actor with Barrymore and director Coraci, who helmed the leads’ first pairing, The Wedding Singer, nearly 20 years ago.
As in that film and their last outing, 50 First Dates, Sandler and Barrymore display an onscreen connection that lends a grounding warmth to the clunkiest comedy setups – in this case, a narrative that places two single parents on an African holiday as a second date.
The movie opens with a blind date between the two characters that’s a disaster not just for them but for the audience, every joke landing with a thud. Sporting-goods salesman Jim, a widower, and closet organiser Lauren, divorced, are just getting back into the dating game. They meet at Hooters – a seemingly damning choice of location for Jim, but one that is later revealed to have sentimental meaning.
However awful Lauren and Jim’s first meeting, it’s clear that these devoted parents are meant for each other, as their matching minivans attest. Their next run-in, a second-chance meet-cute at a pharmacy, clicks as comedy and insightful dramatic development. He’s there for his teenage daughter, Hilary (Thorne), whom the sports-minded Jim treats like an athlete of no particular gender persuasion, complete with unflattering barbershop do. In a kind of parental symmetry, Lauren is at the store to replace a girly magazine she impulsively destroyed after discovering it under the bed of her older son (Beckham).
That winning scene aside, Coraci indulges in a bit too much stateside setup before the action shifts to its main setting, Africa – to be precise, a mildly adventurous South African resort that might be called Africa Land or Africa World, and which feels like being stuck on an overprogrammed cruise.
Jim, Lauren and their broods share a super-fancy suite with a view – the result of semi-convincing plot contortions.
Antagonists though they may be, they’re smack in the middle of the resort’s annual celebration of the blended family, a “familymoon” event that’s designed with lots of activities for kids and romantic opportunities for adults. Avoiding the latter, Lauren and Jim keep busy on the family-friendly front. Amid such shrill escapades as a balloon crash-landing over a rhinoceros, they very predictably mentor each other’s children: Jim coaches the baseball-challenged Tyler (Silverstein), and Lauren coaxes the frustrated Hilary into a glamorous makeover. The kids, all well played, don’t interact as siblings; their main purpose is to represent facets of parenthood, both positive and negative.
The action is by turns insistently sunny and mawkish. Jim’s alternately sweet and, in a bit of overdone shtick, demonic youngest daughter (Lind) instigates a “What do you miss about Mommy?” conversation, and his middle girl (Fuhrmann) – who has the honour of being named Espn, after the cable network – still communes with her mother, insisting on a place for her at the dinner table.
Supporting roles are of the broadly drawn and thankless sort. Kevin Nealon plays a middle-aged holidaymaker who’s blind to the tension between his cleavage-heavy young wife (Lowe) and his teenage son (Henri). Shaquille O’Neal is called upon to do some belly-dancing as Jim’s co-worker, while Joel McHale fills the role of Lauren’s ex, a self-involved no-show dad whose every move only emphasises Jim’s goodness.
The connect-the-dots proceedings get some much-needed punctuation – or interruption – from Terry Crews, who flexes (pectoral) muscle as the wide-eyed, ultra-exuberant lead singer of the resort’s Thathoo Harmony Group. Like all routines in the film, though, it repeats itself rather than venture into fresher and funnier territory.
Coraci keeps things moving but rarely gets a comic pulse revving. The production is solid, the most striking images being brief footage of the animals encountered on the families’ safari, by far the wildest element in this family-friendly adventure. – Hollywood Reporter
If you liked Grown Ups 2 and We’re the Millers, you will enjoy this.