By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — They blended well and were delightful together in the winning romantic comedy, The Wedding Singer, in 1998.
Their blend was forced and unconvincing in the leaky and creaky 50 First Dates, another romcom, in 2004.
Their third collaboration, a decade later, is Blended. And like their last outing together, it falls well short of the lofty standards of their first teaming.
Which is a shame, because Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore remain appealing screen presences and have a pleasantly unforced chemistry.
But it’s the problematic script that keeps their third pairing from being the charm.
Blended is, however, less of a romantic comedy -– although it has romcom elements –- than it is a comedy about parenting and families.
Sandler and Barrymore play single parents who go out on a disastrous first date (for the mathematically inclined, that’s 49 fewer first dates than in their last project) — a trying blind date at Hooters, of all places, on which they declare themselves a mismatch from the get-go.
But later, unashamed screenwriting coincidences being what they are, the two principals (he’s a widower, she’s recently divorced) find themselves sharing a suite and a safari vacation for a week at a luxurious family resort targeting newly formed families in South Africa with their kids: her two boys (Kyle Red Silverstein as Tyler, Braxton Beckham as Brendan) and his three girls (Bella Thorne as Hilary, Emma Fuhrmann as Espn, Alyvia Alyn Lind as Lou).
To balance out all those unfamiliar young’uns, whose storylines are reasonably well handled, familiar veterans Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale, and Shaquille O’Neal are trotted out, joined by relative newcomer Jessica Lowe.
But while the kids come off respectably, the grownups deliver their lines with such cartoonish stridency that it’s as if director Frank Coraci was afraid that any charm or wit emanating from a supporting player would threaten the three-dimensional humanity on display by the leads.
Coraci (who directed the same two stars so effectively in The Wedding Singer and has also guided Sandler in The Waterboy and Click, and Kevin James in Zookeeper and Here Comes the Boom) connects the dots in an obvious way, setting up a string of broad, arbitrary slapstick bits and gags instead of letting the hoped-for water-cooler moments flow organically from the story being told.
The basic premise of the screenplay –- that is, getting the two families to Africa together accidentally because they’d never do so intentionally — is the result of a set of convolutions that should thoroughly embarrass screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera, and Sandler, who happens to be one of the producers.
But the guess here is that it doesn’t.
So Sandler continues to be much more reliable as a performer than he is as a decision-making and personnel-hiring producer.
You get the feeling that the two stars care about the film’s involved-parenting message. But despite a few tender parent-child moments, Sandler’s latest film never fully recovers from the awkward and unconvincing setup, its narrative momentum coming to a standstill in the late stages. We find ourselves far too often wishing that the film and the rest of its characters would just get out of the way and let us sit quietly in the company of the film’s two charismatic stars.
But, alas, that’s not the way it works.
So we’ll raise 2 stars out of 4 for the strained and uneven new-family comedy, Blended: it’s Adam and Drew in a dry, meatless stew.