The jokes in Adam Sandler movies are like buses. If you miss one, it’s coming back in five minutes,
And so it is with romantic comedy Blended, whose title is a nod to melding families but which could also refer to Sandler’s fondness for mixing his vacations with craptastic moviemaking.
In this case, it’s South Africa, or, as it’s called throughout the film: Africa.
The gags about masturbation, girls who look like boys, lesbians and a cutie who talks like the Exorcist’s demon recycle endlessly.
Drew Barrymore plays single mom Lauren, reteaming with Sandler for the third time after The Wedding Singer (1998) and 50 First Dates (2004). She risks a hernia carrying this bloated turkey on her back. Incredibly, she’s game for much of it, funny and charming throughout.
She gets a lively assist from NFL linebacker-turned-actor Terry Crews as a preening Sun City resort singer, whose muscular showboating antics provide relief from the strangely bloated-looking Sandler’s somnambulate performance. And Bridesmaids’ Wendi McLendon-Covey is in fine form as Lauren’s kid-hating business partner.
It takes a while for the story to get to Africa, opening with sporting goods store employee Jim (Sandler) taking professional closet organizer Lauren on a blind date to Hooters, where he ignores her and makes fun of her job. They hate each other from the outset.
Sandler, who has an almost pathological need to be the misunderstood hero of every self-absorbed movie he makes, gets a pass for repeatedly being a jerk because he has a dead wife and is devoted to his three tomboy daughters: Hillary (Bella Thorne), who he calls Larry, Espn (named for the network), who holds conversations with her dead mom, and wee cutie Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind).
He even has a darned good reason for taking Lauren to Hooters, so take that, you judging woman.
Lauren has two boys; the elder is the target of a barrage of self-abuse jokes (Braxton Beckham) and the other is a hyperactive poor sport (Kyle Red Silverstein) who might learn how to connect bat with baseball if only there was a strong male influence in his life (hint, hint).
A complicated bit of ridiculousness allows each parent to buy a share in a cancelled fantasy trip to South Africa, unbeknownst to the other. The crassly decorated resort, wrapped in zebra stripes and Vegas glitter, is a nightmarish place that looks like a cross between Cher’s bedroom and the set of Bwana Devil.
Among the guests enjoying the blended family-themed week are May-December canoodlers played by Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe (and co-starring her cleavage, which she uses as a punctuation mark, ending each sentence with a shimmy).
Occasionally Sandler rouses himself to engage with Barrymore, and these are the rare times that Blended works, thanks to their easy chemistry onscreen. Then he rides an ostrich.
Directed by Frank Coraci and written by Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera, Blended is a rather sloppily-made effort, with stock shots of lions and giraffes randomly dropped in. A scene where Lauren admires the animal kingdom from a jeep-tethered parachute ride is laughable, and not for the right reasons. Horrible onscreen switches from stunt performers to stars are cringeworthy.
Blended is a movie with training wheels, where everything is spelled out and the path to Lauren and Jim moving from “I hate you” to “I do” is lit up like a landing strip in the desert.
And of course, what would an Africa movie be without a pair of mating rhinos?
“You won’t see that in New Jersey!” quips a resort employee. You will if there’s a multiplex and Sandler has access to it.