Overview: Two single parents part ways from a disastrous blind date only to find their families on vacation together in Africa. Warner Brothers/Happy Madison; 2014; Rated PG-13; 117 Minutes.
Predictably Bad: Happy Madison films hold true to a trademark sense of comedic formula that you won’t find any where else. Sandler and his predictable casts wave their juvenile intentions like a giant makeshift underwear flag (this film, for instance, opens on a shot panning across the floor of a public restroom, catching feet and toilets). The built-in defense suggests that this upfront confession of adolescent standards places a responsibility on the viewers to measure their expectations beforehand. But even still, all film shares a certain level of objective measure. Ever wonder what stand-in extras are talking about in the background? I bet those feigned conversations have more cinematic and narrative substance than the hollow exchanges found in Blended‘s first thirty minutes. Shaq, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, and Joel McHale dully recite punchlines in a way that makes the viewer believe they owed Sandler a debt.
Persistence: Sandler and Director Frank Coraci throw a lot of jokes at the wall here. And then they pick up the same jokes and throw them again. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can’t think of one joke in this movie that isn’t repeated. Sometimes, a failed joke is attempted again two minutes later (My guess is Sandler pays himself what he would pay an editor or test audience). But, credit where it’s due. You have to admire the persistence required to tell the same joke twice. And maybe you have to be amused at the stupidity required to tell it again a third and fourth time. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes at Terry Crews’ first appearance as the mildly-offensive dancing, singing, smiling African, but by the fifth recycle, I had to chuckle.
Signs of Improvement: This is the best Happy Madison feature in years. Hold on! It still sucks, but there are signs of improvement and maybe even promise. I make it no secret that my gag reflex is triggered by the sight of that turning golf-ball logo, and I was fully ready to lift the lid on our garbage chute and toss this in. But I can’t give a failing grade assessment to any movie with Alyvia Alyn Lind, the cutest onscreen kid since Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy. I imagine Drew Barrymore might earn the affection of many a casual movie goer. Sandler always works best when in dramatic everyman context, and here he falls more in line with his commendable work in Spanglish and The Wedding Singer than with his excessive list of stomach-churning manchildren. And the story itself offers many a sincere, sentimental moment. While sometimes it feels as though the story’s dead wife holds the movie hostage for our laughter, and other times our emotional investment is interrupted by a poorly timed cheap gag, there are several instances in Blended where it feels like a better movie is trying to outshout the junior high class clowns.
Overall: Blended has its heart in the right place, but it’s too preoccupied making armpit farts to detect its own pulse.