How clueless does a dating doofus have to be to take a woman to Hooters on a blind date?
She ordered the Buffalo shrimp, he nervously drank her beer while she was muttering to herself in the ladies room and kept his eyes glued to the TV over her head – until a whole bunch of scantily clad Hooters waitresses congregated familiarly at their table.
Well, it turns out in “Blended” that there was a very sympathetic reason for the catastrophe that ensued at that couple’s first evening together.
You’ll similarly need to overlook a lot to enjoy what genuine sweetness and humor there is in the film, which is sometimes a likably clichéd little film about blending families in suburban mall America.
Except that the blending doesn’t actually happen in America. It happens to two single-parent American families while on vacation in a Hollywood Movie Africa you won’t believe for a second – a bumbling, sports nut father and his three daughters and a struggling, big-hearted divorcee with two sons (whose oldest is significantly in mid-puberty).
Among the chief things I’m advising you to overlook in “Blended” are:
1) The movie’s quietly disturbing condescension toward all things African, from its black inhabitants (including a comic performing troupe used as a comic chorus throughout the movie as if in the worst Marx Brothers’ use of black actors in the 1930s) to the animals, who are usually caught in the act of rutting or devouring smaller species or similarly misbehaving in the eyes of middle-class American tourists.
2) The unreal cluelessness of a widower with three daughters for whom all things menstrual seem to be a complete mystery. No single widower in America with three teen daughters is ever likely to avoid the most rudimentary physiological matters of raising three girls, of whom the oldest is 15. Nor – except in a dipwad Adam Sandler movie – is he ever going to be this much in the dark about the kind of emerging gender differentiation so important to 15-year-olds of both sexes, even girls who are otherwise tomboy jocks. How could a guy like Jim (Sandler) who is supposedly a manager of a Dick’s Sporting Goods store, be so ignorant of gender matters when, in fact, a good deal of knowledge of those very things would be key to selling his store’s products?
But then that’s the point: This is an Adam Sandler romantic comedy/drama which means that it’s not really about recognizable adults at all but superannuated teenagers clumsily pretending to be adults even though they’ve long since had adult bodies (Sandler is almost 47).
Infantilism is ground zero in Sandler movies. They’re all about supposed grown-ups trying to escape the emotional kindergarten that the movies have long identified as the demographic sweet spot in the megaplex movie audience.
And, of course, they’re not entirely wrong in that.
If this third collaboration of Sandler and Drew Barrymore had been a mildly sophisticated and genuinely adult romantic comedy about two single-parent families that accidentally spend a vacation together in a recognizably African Africa, it would have been vastly better, but it wouldn’t make even half as much money as “Blended” is liable to make this weekend. So successfully infantilized has our entertainment world become that there’s an audience awaiting it.
Yes, it’s sometimes funny. And yes, it’s sometimes genuinely moving in a sweet and endearing way. Both of its stars – Sandler and Barrymore – are, in what we laughingly call “real life,” parents (in Sandler’s case, of two young girls). They are by no means strangers to parental tenderness, which is why, when this movie goes for tears, it almost earns them honorably.
Would that its jokes had half as much integrity. In this childlike world, fathers of teen daughters are traumatized and ignorant of menstrual realities and mothers of prepubescent sons can’t carry them to bed without bumping their heads on walls and door frames. (Nor are they capable, with pubescent sons, of encountering a wrinkled centerfold picture hidden under the bed without panic – one where the model wore a bikini, no less.)
Overlook how clumsy and stilted and unrelated to anything resembling reality this movie is and there are indeed a few things to laugh at and even more things to get decently misty-eyed about.
Sandler, Barrymore and their “Wedding Singer” director Frank Coraci are pros.
Let’s give them at least that.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Kevin Nealon, Shaquille O’Neal
Director: Frank Coraci
Running time: 117 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for crude language and sexual suggestiveness.
The Lowdown: Two single-parent families accidentally wind up on the same African vacation and bond emotionally against everyone’s better judgment.