Sometimes Adam Sandler works for others (notably Paul Thomas Anderson and Judd Apatow) and makes an interesting and sophisticated film, but mostly he churns out branded “Adam Sandler comedies,” which he produces and headlines as star. Blended is one of the latter, proudly and pointedly credited as “A Frank Coraci Movie”—not a film, y’hear? Nerd-os, go home! As per the Sandler-Coraci formula, then, Blended is shamelessly, relentlessly crass and/or manipulative, wholly commercial and utterly conventional. But established formula endures because it works, not so much on an artistic level but certainly with audiences who don’t mind a cinematic Happy Meal.
Sandler plays Jim, a widower and clueless single father to three daughters he has languishing in dowdy “pageboy Prince Valiant” haircuts and unflattering polo shirts and sweatpants. As a teenager, Hilary (Bella Thorne) suffers these indignities the worst, with Dad calling her “Lary” and teen boys constantly mistaking her for a bro. Meanwhile, tween Espn (Emma Fuhrmann)—yep, named after the cable sports outlet—communes constantly with “Invisible Mommy” (oh dear), and Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) earns her keep as a cornucopia of cuteness and emotional truth-telling.
The film opens with Jim boorishly botching a date with divorcée Lauren (Drew Barrymore, in her third pairing with Sandler). She’s got two hellion sons who are rebelling against their neglectful father (Joel McHale) and mom’s tight reign: as a professional closet organizer, she’s anal retentive for a living. Why, those boys need a father! Those girls need a mother! Those singles need each other! And so these two wacky families find themselves on a collision course to becoming “Blended” when they accidentally wind up sharing a South African vacation package and bond over safaris and touristy tribal dancing.
Surprisingly, Blended is not one of Sandler’s most racially offensive movies. In fact, it’s really not racially offensive at all. Yes, it uncritically accepts the cartoon tourist-trap resort version of Africa, but that’s true to life. There are such resorts, and folks enjoy their theme-park attractions just like the ugly Americans in this movie do (Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe play two of the ugliest, the embarrassing parents of Hilary’s teen love interest). Are there grinnin’, wide-eyed clownish African stereotypes in this movie? Yes (Terry Crews enthusiastically plays one of them). But for these characters, it’s their job to put on this act, and besides, when every supporting character is a cartoonish stereotype, this can only be called equal opportunity.
As always, Barrymore proves extremely appealing—she’s far better than her material here—and Sandler can do his laconic comedy and mawkish melodrama in his sleep at this point. Though the whimsy is forced, small children will certainly appreciate the broad humor (and Barrymore’s mercenary but sweet rendition of “Over the Rainbow”). Blended may be called that because it purees your brain for two hours, but then again maybe its sunny-mawkish family fantasy is what you and your kids need after a long week. I won’t judge. I’ll just tell you you can do better with your hard-earned cash.