Blended is a movie at odds with itself. It’s desperate to be a deep and involving look at parenting, grief, and moving on to that next phase in one’s life. It wants to address the now-everyday occurrence of found families, kin compromised of stepmothers and stepfathers, half-brothers and adopted sisters. Even its rom-com conceits are confused. On the one hand, we have Adam Sandler backing away a bit from the groan-inducing gratuitousness that has made him a safe bet box office ATM. He’s trying hard to be more likeable, and less lewd here, and it shows. We also get Drew Barrymore slumming (a bit) when she deserves so much better. If only the film hadn’t tried so hard to please the Happy Madison demo while dealing with Parenthood-like problems. Instead, it’s a mash-up of mangled motives which never come together as a satisfying experience.
During a horrendous blind date, divorcee Lauren Reynolds (Barrymore) and widower Jim Friedman (Sandler) take an instant dislike to each other. She’s struggling with two pre-adolescent boys. He’s got three confused girls at home. Lauren works with her best friend Jen (Wendy McLendon-Covey) as a closet organizer. Jim manages the local Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Through circumstances too convoluted to explain, the Reynoldses and the Friedmans end up on the same African dream vacation. Naturally, the adults spend most of the time arguing while the kids begin bonding. Over the course of this resort style safari, Jim’s oldest (Bella Thorne) starts to shed her tomboy ways, falling hard for a boy from Canada (Zak Henri). In the meantime, our displeased parents start warming to each other as well.
The aforementioned allusion to Ron Howard’s 1989 comedy is apropos. Blended feigns interest in the more complicated aspects of being a single parent, but never makes us believe that these issues will end up mattering. Instead, they are readily tossed aside for endless jokes about masturbation, CG ostrich rides, and the insane addition of Terry Crews as a lounge entertainer who acts like a unnecessary musical Greek Chorus to the shenanigans onscreen. Sure, Sandler and Barrymore have an easy chemistry. It worked before in both The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. But here, the material is mired in a kind of inconclusiveness that leaves you wanting more of the heart and less of the ha-has. The screenplay by novice Clare Sera and TV scribe Ivan Menchell (The Nanny, Jonas) provides opportunities for insight, but it’s clear that director Frank Coraci frequently tossed the pages aside for more ad-libbed lameness.
Because of its family-friendly ideals, because of its desire to tread the same ground that Sandler’s professional paid vacations — otherwise known as the Grown Ups films — walked, Blended becomes exasperating. You want to like it and the sentiment at the center, but the movie itself is more interested in actress Jessica Lowe jiggling her breasts and Barrymore’s young boys ogling them. It’s happier showing us how clueless Sandler’s character is and how hot is oldest daughter can be if he just lets her be a girl, and stops pushing her to be a point guard on the basketball team. The kids all have issues, especially the middle child in Jim’s brood. She’s so depressed over her mom’s death that she “talks” to her as if she is present. While this might make psychological sense, it’s not exactly a laugh riot.
At least Africa comes out more or less unscathed, though the Sandals-like tourist trap that provides the central gimmick here might as well be in Pittsburgh for all the local color it provides. Blended had a chance to be something more than just the standard Sandler silliness. Unfortunately, it never really figures out what it wants to be.