What bothered a lot of people about prime Jerry Lewis material wasn’t that he talked like a baby reaching the so-called milestones some 30 years behind schedule, though for some that was sin enough. What irked them more was his audacity to undercut his anarchic potential with what was even by 1960s standards pretty syrupy sentimentality. It’s no crime to make a fool of yourself in a slapstick farce—quite the opposite. But when you try to use cheap laughs as a Trojan horse for even cheaper emotional overtures, you risk opening up a kind of comedic cognitive dissonance. Lewis had the directorial vision to actually explore that dissonance in his ever-rewarding body of work. Adam Sandler, who it seems increasingly clear is bent on realizing a similar sweet-sour balance, repeatedly hands the reigns over to filmmakers who inherently mistrust one of the two extremes, leaving the actor himself to, in effect, drum his index finger between his lips while the sound of crickets fills movie houses.
At a conceptual level, Blended had as much promise to examine Sandler’s diametric impulses as anything this side of Jack and Jill (giving Armond White and his instantly notorious rave review of the film the rhetorical benefit of the doubt), which literally split Sandler in two before unconvincingly proposing that both Jill the crass buffoon and Jack the kind-hearted oaf complete each other. Blended operates under similar logic, but stacks the deck by once again reuniting Sandler with Drew Barrymore, the co-star who first domesticated the ex-Saturday Night Live frat boy. If The Wedding Singer remains the only Sandler movie to have moved half its audience to give appreciative blowjobs to the other half, Blended clearly wants everyone to start circling dates on their calendar like Rosemary Woodhouse.
Forget 50 First Dates, though in teasingly referencing that film at the onset, clearly the filmmakers prefer you don’t. Blended’s single parents Jim and Lauren can’t even get through a single date. Mutually hostile from the outset, they both secretly arrange to be pulled away via cellphone from the mounting disaster. They meet up again to return each other’s accidentally swapped credit cards and, in convoluted fashion, unknowingly end up swiping their mutual friends’ unwanted tickets to a luxury South African resort vacation. The only catch: It’s a resort set up to help step-families get off on the right foot by sharing exotic “familymoons” amid the grandeur of humping rhinos, sax-blowing monkeys, and Terry Crews’s bulging pythons. Faster than you can say The Brady Bunch Goes on Safari, Jim, Lauren, and their collective quintet of apprehensive kin are getting rinsed in the baptismal waters of traditional, evidently superior two-parent family units.
In case you didn’t get the heteronormative hint, each parent is lugging around opposite-sex broods. And flailing. Lauren reacts to her son’s lascivious feelings for the babysitter (whose face he tapes to a Playboy centerfold) with shuddering convulsions, and Jim the patriarch evidently thinks his rail-thin teen daughter will manage fine with maxi beluga-sized tampons. They need each other. Their kids need them to need each other. And the filmmakers responsible for setting Barrymore up with Sandler for this encore duet seem pretty convinced all the two actors need is each other too, or else they might’ve used their chemistry to mirror Sandler’s own competing impulses to alternately regress and charm. Or at least bother to lay out comedic set pieces that aren’t simply family-friendly big-budget variations on Jackass stunts. Late in the film, when it’s clear beauty will fall for beast, they both concur parenting is giving 99 percent of yourself over to your children and hoping for the best with the remainder. Blended, which summarily ignores the kids once their respective sole problems are “solved,” makes a pretty lousy case for the domestic one-percenters.