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51%

Blended lacks in originality, but a slight step-up for Sandler and company

I want to believe in Adam Sandler. He’s made comedies that truly cracked me up back in the day, which are obviously his first three films. Then he turned in a truly memorable performance in one of my all-time favorite romantic films, Punch-Drunk Love. Strange as it seems, I also want to believe in Drew Barrymore’s charisma, childlike gaze, and goofy playful smile. In fact, both Sandler and Barrymore remind me of kids trapped in adult bodies, and not always in an annoying way. I happen to adore The Wedding Singer, but 50 First Dates left a lot to be desired due to its questionable storyline. That one made me feel completely uneasy despite its good intentions. I think they make a great comedy team, but they are often marred by Sandler’s penchant for pop culture in-joke references, potty humor, slapstick and raunch. Just about every review for his latest film seems to proclaim that “well, it’s not as bad as a lot of other Sandler movies he’s put out recently.” I personally can’t make that statement since I  will likely never bother with the likes of Jack and Jill or Grown-Ups 2.

Blended is a slight step-up from their last outing together, but not by much. It’s painfully long, just like the majority of comedies that come out these days. The huge upside to the surprisingly divisive Neighbors is that it did not overstay its welcome with a 90 minute running time. But I will say, at least this one coasts on the charming personalities of the two leads of which I’ve been fans since I became familiar with them. I happen to like them both and find them amusing, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Sandler plays Jim, a recent widow who goes on a blind date with Lauren (Barrymore), who recently split from her self-centered husband (Joel McHale, with absolutely nothing to do).

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The date goes horribly and, although they resolve never to see each other again, they keep bumping into each other: long, preposterous story short, they independently lie their way into a fancy, all-expenses-paid family vacation in South Africa. Neither knew the other was coming, and so they have to put up with each other long enough to realize they’re in love. The screenplay is by-the-numbers, but what else would you expect at this point? Simply just watch the trailer, and if you even crack a smile, consider going on a date for this. Just don’t expect anything other than what it is. It will leave your mind as soon as it’s over, and I know there’s a place for these types of comedies in the world. Yet watching Blended feels like posting a status update on MySpace instead of Facebook. This brand of humor has grown stale and unappealing. I can’t imagine this becoming a cult classic or even a box office hit. Despite the punishing length, I will admit it was pleasant to look at.

Shot on location, Blended is filled with shots of safaris and wildlife, which sometimes makes the characters’ ugly-American-narrow-mindedness all the more tacky and obvious. (This is the sort of film that highlights African drummers so that Jim’s and Lauren’s kids can bust all their funky-fresh dance moves. Ick.) But while director Frank Coraci mostly points the camera at the funny people and lets them do their thing, he’s fortunate to be working with a ho-hum story that has just barely enough resonance to make the predictable setup and tired clichés tolerable enough to keep you from walking out of the theater. Have a heart and shut off your brain; you may smile if you’re in the right mood. Again, the only reason you might be slightly amused is whether or not you enjoy seeing Barrymore and Sandler essentially rehash their chemistry from The Wedding Singer, which is a far superior romantic comedy despite being ridiculous on occasion. 50 First Dates had the unfortunate spin of using a memory disorder as a way for Sandler to woo her, which was borderline creepy.

In Blended, it’s simplified to a cliché romantic comedy for better or worse, mostly for worse. Part of me wanted to follow the Kevin Nealon character, just because he stands out and plays an outlandish role the only way that Nealon can. But at this point, it all comes down to Sandler disappointing time and time again. Almost every cinephile has pointed out that he’s essentially devolved into the jaded character he played in Funny People, only without the cancer, starring in movies akin to playing a CGI baby which is brilliantly lampooned in Funny People. He’s capable of so much more, both from a comedic standpoint and a dramatic one. He’s got two movies coming out soon that are from independent filmmakers, which gives me a glimmer of hope. Blended is not terrible as I smiled and laughed a bit more than expected. But like all Sandler comedies, it is too afraid to use real emotion or accept that its audience is smart enough to read between the lines to even muster up any modicum of emotional response to the plights of these parents. The chemistry is still there for sure, the kids are cute enough, but it’s all in service of very little which continues to disappoint from such a gifted comedian like Sandler. For some reason, I still want to believe he’ll redeem himself again.

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