2 June 2014

Review: Blended (Frank Coraci, Warner Bros, 2014)


2014, 118mins, 12
Director: Frank Coraci 
Writer (S): Clare Sera, Ivan Menchell
Cast includes; Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Terry Crews, Bella Thorne, Joel McHale, Kevin Nealon
UK Release Date: 23rd May 2014

We don’t see enough of Drew Barrymore anymore. A giggly and effervescent presence, Barrymore brings out a softer side in Adam Sandler for the third time in her career with “Blended”, encouraging a show of genuine vulnerability from the guarded comedian. Their past collaborations -1998’s “The Wedding Singer” and 2004’s “50 First Dates”- aren’t masterpieces, but they possess an underlying sweetness, an element often absent from Sandler’s Happy Madison brand. The actors share an unforced chemistry that encourages romance and gentle comedy, and for that reason “Blended” occasionally threatens to offer more than the dreck Sandler’s been pumping out recently. Of course we’re talking about post-“Grown-Ups” Sandler here, so there’s still haphazard film-making and an unpolished script to contend with; and unfortunately for all her chutzpah Barrymore can’t unanimously override such colossal oversights in quality control. “Blended” is seductively earnest in spots, but it’s at least two drafts and half a dozen better jokes away from being anything you could hope to fully endorse.

After a disastrous blind-date, widower Jim (Adam Sandler) and divorcee Lauren (Drew Barrymore) hope to never see each other again. Jim is struggling with the prospect of satisfactorily fathering three young women, whilst Lauren doesn’t know to cope with the sticky pubescent issues surrounding her spirited boys. When some mutual friends decide to pass on a trip to Africa, Jim and Lauren both pounce at the chance to inherit the vacation, neither aware that there are enough openings to accommodate both families. On arrival in the exotic continent they are appalled to find the holiday includes shared living arrangements and that the resort is devoted to blending disparate families. Initially hesitant to share the experience, the two units eventually begin to bond, spearheaded by maturing affection between Jim and Lauren.

Some credit must be extended to director Frank Coraci and cinematographer Julio Macat, because “Blended” looks a damn sight nicer than anything in Sandler’s recent oeuvre. It’s a low bar to clear, but “Blended” does so quite capably, using the lush African scenery and a warming colour palette to achieve an attractive sheen. There’s actual colour texturing to enjoy here, a massive upgrade from the artificiality of the usual Happy Madison aesthetic. The glowing, sunny filters even seep into the drama beneficially, allowing for heightened tolerance toward the perils of Western suburbia internalized by the feature’s characters. Similar compliments can’t be passed onto Rupert Gregson-Williams’ bland, trite musical score, which generally fades into the background, unless it’s being deployed with manipulative maleficence, often twinkling during the picture’s schmaltzier emotional beats. I guess some things don’t change.

The first twenty minutes of “Blended” are the strongest, and that’s before the whole Africa shebang even ignites. Sandler and Barrymore are incredibly relaxed and chummy together, their dynamic personified in an amusing drugstore interlude. Aside from a few small quirky Sandler moments (including cameos from regulars Mary Pat Gleason and Allen Covert),there’s also real pleasure in seeing Sandler riff on teenage masturbation habits, while Barrymore keeps the human undertones at a tender pitch. The duo work well together, and when “Blended” roars into romantic overdrive during its abysmally paced final third, you at least want to see them unite. It’s amazing how compatible performers can make a bad rom-com tolerable, and that’s exactly what happens here. “Blended” isn’t nearly nuanced, funny or sophisticated enough to qualify as good, but the leads inject it with enough sloppy affability to cement some mild degree of audience engagement.

Cameos from Terry Crews and Joel McHale induce smiles, especially the former who with a chorus line of locals has a habit of finding inappropriate times to ply his melodic trade. It’s indicative of an older, weirder Sandler, and Crews is game enough to make most anything work. Otherwise it gets barren fast. The key comic set-pieces are insanely broad, including moments involving erotic massage, horny animals and a hotel employee incapable of correctly pronouncing Jim’s name. The gags are less offensive than the misogynistic lows of “Grown-Ups 2”, but they hardly represent prime-cut comedy either. By Sandler’s recent standards the material is fair, but rewind further in his filmography and it appears flat. Dramatically the film is slightly more consistent, yet fundamentally uneven. Whilst the relationship between Sandler and Barrymore is mercifully warm-hearted, the subplots involving their children are less enticing. Often it’s because the child actors are kind of obnoxious (I could do without seeing young Braxton Beckham in a movie again), but also because the screenplay simplifies their arcs into dull, superficial detours. Some effort is made in regard to the effects the mother’s passing is having on Jim’s clan, but otherwise this is stuff you’ve seen before, just executed less perceptively.

“Blended” isn't hateful; in fact I was regularly surprised by its sincerity and photogenic qualities. Sandler and Barrymore are cute together, but they've already made two superior romantic vehicles, rendering this third outing moot. Anything else “Blended” attempts incurs a stumble, and at 118 minutes it doesn’t offer adequate pay-off to justify such indulgence. Perhaps though, Sandler might shelve one of his own future projects and reinvest his time and money into giving Barrymore a marquee opportunity. If the upside of “Blended” is that we get a little more Drew in the years to come, then it’s hard to vehemently rage against the film. Doesn't mean you have to watch it though.  

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014


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