Adam Sandler’s latest comedy, Blended, makes a case for wholesome family values, but it’s a good family movie the way Hooters is a good family restaurant — good for reactionary white pervs who like synthetic (reheated) fast food served by fawning stereotypes. Hooters, by the way, is the setting for the ridiculous blind date between widower Jim (Sandler) and divorcée Lauren (Drew Barrymore) that opens the film. The scene is a commercial for the chain and the first of many tie-ins, the most prominent with Dick’s Sporting Goods: Not only does Jim manage a Dick’s, but Dick himself figures in the plot. From now on, I think I better go to Mo’s.
Lauren is a professional organizer with two sons who need a dad. Jim is a sports fanatic with three daughters who need a mom. I trust you see the mathematical possibilities: It’s Geometry 1, the mental defectives’ section. At first, Lauren loathes Jim and vice versa. But as the Fates conspire to bring them together, they begin to sense how vital they could be to each other’s families. Only the man can teach the woman’s hyperactive, insecure younger boy to be scary-aggressive on the baseball field. Only the woman can turn the man’s supposedly fugly tomboy daughter (Bella Thorne) into a teen goddess in short little dresses who can actually attract a guy.
And these lessons are learned on a trip to a South African resort, where black people in resplendent purple smile, sing, pop their eyes, flex their biceps, and basically exist to teach white people how to fall in love. Ooh, they are so fuuuunnny, these happy Negroes, always popping up to encourage Jim and Laura to blend their families, because that, dontcha know, is what life is all about.
I’d like to be fair here. Some of you could reasonably argue that these gender and racial behaviors have a firm basis in reality. You could, at least, if this were 1955. You’d be wrong and I wouldn’t want to know you, but you wouldn’t be out of step with the times. These days, the setup of Blended doesn’t feel old-fashioned. It feels antediluvian. It feels morally sclerotic —and icky.
I come to Blended as someone who is, believe it or not, sympathetic to Sandler and only recently (after such Razzie-worthy work as Jack and Jill and Grown Ups 2) decided he had the most punchable face in movies. He radiates self-absorption, but of the juvenile, fogbound kind that carries a touch of sadness: He’s like the little boy who hits you because he can’t figure out another way to express himself. Paul Thomas Anderson captured that aspect of him in Punch-Drunk Love. And in The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, Barrymore’s radiant sweetness managed to cut through that fog and make him seem halfway human.
The third time’s not the charm, though. Barrymore starts out winningly (her best scenes are with Wendi McLendon-Covey, who has a good, pushy delivery as Lauren’s confidante), but soon resorts to phony peals of laughter at Sandler’s winning quips and moist, cow eyes at his sheer paternal decency. I was embarrassed for her.
Sandler fans will find the usual gross-out and smutty gags amid all this cloying wholesomeness: rhinos fornicating, blondes shaking their boobies, adolescents caught whacking off to porn. Blended isn’t 3-D, but it feels like it: Sandler would piss out of the screen if he thought he could get a laugh. This is not his worst film, but it’s his most offensive. It made me long for the relative innocence of Jack and Jill, the penetrating father-son insights of That’s My Boy, the psychological subtleties of Happy Gilmore…