Wow, according to Rotten Tomatoes 87% of American film critics hate the new Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy, “Blended.” That’s rejection along the lines of the bubonic plague and cat killers. What a God-awful movie that must be.
The problem here is Sandler, of course, not Barrymore. No one hates Drew Barrymore.
Sandler has justifiably earned critics’ enmity over the years by playing a bunch of bumbling dolts and man-children with a predilection for bathroom humor and potty-mouth nonsense that makes Jerry Lewis look like the King of Sophistication.
Plus he hardly varies any of these characters, meaning he’s never learned how to act. That is annoying.
He has tried to alter his persona by working with auteurs such as James L. Brooks (“Spanglish”) and Paul Thomas Anderson (“Punch-Drunk Love”). But he brought nothing to the party — other than perhaps production coin since his name probably helped finance those films — and each “auteur” — I remain unconfined in both cases — made possibly his worst film.
Now, the critics, sensing blood in the water, have gotten the knives out — to seriously mix metaphors.
Although the comedy is wildly erratic and the Happy Madison empire clearly needs adult supervision, “Blended” is, for the most part, a sweet romantic/family comedy that has more laughs and fun than most of other movies masquerading as family entertainment.
It deals with a situation so common yet virtually unexamined in American cinema other than corny old films such as “Yours, Mine and Ours” and “With Six You Get Eggroll.” Meaning the romance of a couple who have children from previous marriages.
(Those old movies made everyone widows or widowers because, as everyone knows, there was no divorce in America back in the ‘60s.)
So here’s the situation: There apparently exists hotel chains that specialize in vacation packages called “familymoons,” where newlyweds bring their children along so everyone can spend quality time together.
Yeah, I know — yuck.
But these packages do exist and at least this film gives the concept a hip twist that throws out the honeymoon and imagines that the “couple” is actually two people who despise each other but through force of circumstances find their families linked on one such mis-adventure.
So the set-up — a blind date from hell that anyone can relate to — implausibly leads to the man and woman finding themselves stranded with each other and their families in a safari resort in South Africa.
Oh, there are major miscalculations here starting with setting and shooting the film in South Africa, which adds elements the filmmaker either turn a blind eye to or are actually ignorant of and makes Africa look less authentic than the Disneyland Jungle Cruise.
Other problems: A scene of witty repartee or smart comedy will be followed by slapstick so stale that you wonder if the two stars demanded different directors for his and her scenes.
But — and the but is important — the film works after a fashion. Believe me, if you’re on an airline flight six months from now and your choices of in-flight entertainment are a few Oscar nominees and “Blended,” you’ll chose the latter. There’s nothing wrong with a lighthearted comedy to get you through a tough flight — or over a rough day.
While predictable, what’s wrong with seeing kids grow to like and accept another adult who brings a different prospective to child-rearing — to let a tomboy escape into womanhood or an ADD kid relax into realizing his potential?
Screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera do alternate corn with clever. But they provide the stars with winning roles that under the direction of Frank Coraci let them give smooth performances to accentuate their best tendencies and allow for chemistry to develop between these two who have played opposite one another in two previous films (“The Wedding Singer” nearly two decades ago, and “50 First Dates.”)
The best thing for Sandler to do is what he’s always done — ignore the critics — and let’s hope audiences ignore them too. Okay, it’s a flawed film — highly flawed — but he seems on track to change his image.
Perhaps tax breaks brought the crew to South Africa — to be specific, Sun City Resort and the neighboring Pilanesberg Game Reserve — but better it had been Arizona or even Delaware. Why Africa?
Africa plays no real role in the comic proceedings and the sight of all these overprivileged whites being cow-towed to be subservient blacks leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Aggravating this is the really bad idea of having a group of black singers headed by Terry Crews, play a kind of Greek chorus making musical comments on all the families’ pratfalls. It’s a nightmare of kitsch and happens over and over and over again.
Supporting roles outside of the two families are broadly drawn and not very funny in any event. Kevin Nealon plays a middle-aged honeymooner who’s oblivious to the tension between his ovesexed young wife (Jessica Lowe) and teenage son (Zak Henri). The resort social director (Abdoulaye N’gom) must deliver corny lines with conviction.
Meanwhile Shaquille O’Neal is called upon to do such a bad belly-dancing as Jim’s co-worker that Kobe Bryant will no doubt post this on FaceBook. Joel McHale can do nothing with the role of Lauren’s ex, a self-involved cad of a dad.
Standouts among the youngsters include Disney Channel star Bella Thorne as Sandler’s tomboy daughter and Kyle Red Silverstein as Barrymore’s sports-challenged son.
Opens: May 23, 2014 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: Gulfstream Pictures, Happy Madison
Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews, Wendy McLendon-Covey, Bella Thorne, Joel McHale, Shaquille O’Neal, Braxton Beckham, Kyle Red Silverstein, Emma Fuhrmann, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Zak Henri
Director: Frank Coraci
Screenwriters: Ivan Menchell, Clare Sera
Producers: Mike Karz, Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo
Executive producers: Barry Bernardi, Josie Rosen, Tim Herlihy, Allen Covert, Steve Koren, James Packer, Steven Mnuchin
Director of photography: Julio Macat
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Costume designer: Christine Wada
Editor: Tom Costain
Rated PG-13, 117 minutes