By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Just go with it, huh? Okay, I went with it. And I’m back.
Adam Sandler and Dennis Dugan are a moviemaking team. The comedy star/producer and director have already collaborated on five features, a quintet ranging from affably, respectably entertaining (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy) to mediocre but watchable (I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) to cynically, insultingly sloppy (Grown Ups).
Which brings us to their sixth teaming, the romantic comedy, Just Go With It (originally titled, much more tellingly, Pretend Wife). About the only praise to be heaped on it is to say that it’s not quite as dreadful as the excruciating Grown Ups. But it comes dangerously close to that film’s lowest-common-denominator laziness and wrongheadedness.
Sandler plays Danny Maccabee, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who meets the much younger Palmer, a schoolteacher played by Brooklyn Decker (channeling Bo Derek in 10) whom he immediately perceives as the woman of his dreams and the love of his life.
Used to deceiving women in order to meet them by telling them that he is unhappily married and on the verge of divorce, he tries a more honest approach this time, ingratiating himself without the big lie.
But then she happens upon the handy-dandy fake wedding band that he wears as part of his ruse.
Rather than fess up, he reverts to form and then, when she requests that she meet his wife and children, he turns to his loyal assistant/receptionist, Katherine Murphy, a platonic friend and single mother of two played by Jennifer Aniston, and asks if she and her kids would help him out in his quest to win his new love over by posing as his wife and children.
When one lie leads to another, and then another, they all — all (don’t ask) — find themselves in Hawaii for the weekend, where they encounter Nicole Kidman and Dave Matthews, the former Katherine’s competitive and intrusive high school nemesis.
The screenplay by Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling was “inspired” by Cactus Flower, the 1969 comedy with Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman, and Oscar-winning Goldie Hawn that was adapted from the Abe Burrows stage play. Their narrative gets as tangled up in its own construction as the protagonist does in his own web of deceptions, eventually spinning out of control until we lose all interest in the cardboard characters and their ersatz problems.
Sandler and Aniston work hard — much too hard, given the genre — to make the material play, but his relaxed charm and her sharp comic timing are pretty much wasted. They’re defeated by a script that needs an overhaul, and direction from Dugan that seems based on the assumption that everyone in the audience is gullible beyond all reason.
The director garners a few broad-slapstick laughs but, from strained setup to faulty follow-through to cavalier conclusion, he doesn’t manage even a moment of credibility: we don’t buy Sandler as a doctor, we don’t buy Aniston as a receptionist, we don’t buy Danny and Katherine’s submerged passion for each other, we don’t buy Palmer’s interest in Danny, and — most damagingly — we don’t buy that any of them would buy each other’s ludicrous behaviors.
But at least we come to understand why the generic title of the film pleads with us so to ignore our own honest reactions to the film’s various irksome inanities.
The only participant whose career advances productively in this otherwise regrettable enterprise is ex-model Decker, who, despite the woeful script, is a pleasant surprise, impressively natural and comfortable in her big-screen debut.
So we’ll lie about 1 star out of 4 for the PG-13 romcom bomb, Just Go With It.
Just sit through it — I dare you.