After a disastrous blind date, single parents Lauren (Barrymore) and Jim (Sandler) agree on only one thing: they never want to see each other again. But when they each sign up separately for a fabulous family vacation with their kids, they are all stuck sharing a suite at a luxurious African safari resort for a week.
Is there a movie star out there who seemingly chooses his roles based on the potential perks of the filming locations or which of his friends will be able to join him more than Adam Sandler?
There is no doubt that the life of a movie star is filled with advantages that go beyond the millions of dollars, the near-constant adulation, and the vast sense of privilege. Sure, for some, there's art to be made along with all that money, or, at the very least, there's the desire to stretch creatively and to challenge one's self with compelling material. But when it comes to Sandler, his filmmaking choices seem entirely based on how easily the script can be turned into a working vacation (emphasis on the vacation).
In that sense, films falling under the Happy Madison banner have become something of a cottage industry for Sandler's close friends and former SNL castmates. A quick glimpse at 'Grown Ups' and the inexplicable existence of 'Grown Ups 2' stands as convincing proof of that claim. The incomprehensible success of those films could then explain why the actor might feel empowered to reunite with Drew Barrymore for a third time to make 'Blended,' a film so transparent in its potential to provide Sandler and his crew with an exotic holiday that the notion of vacation is baked right into its plot.
Yes, it's incredibly easy to knock Sandler's output in recent years. And yet, even with the insurmountable evidence that Happy Madison films are essentially multimillion-dollar productions of Adam Sandler playdates, the fact that a thematic throughline exists among them seems worthy of some discussion.
Take a look at Sandler's efforts from 'Billy Madison' and 'Happy Gilmore,' all the way through 'Big Daddy,' 'Click,' 'Bedtime Stories,' and even the repulsive 'That's My Boy,' and you'll see a consistency in the way almost each film comments on crude, but likeable jerks fumbling their way into maturity. These are either the only kind of stories Sandler finds engaging on a personal level, or he's simply smart enough to know that's the kind of thing his audience expects from him.
But without getting too caught up in the psychology of Adam Sandler and his Manchild on the Road to Maturation shtick, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that, for all its lazy storytelling and aesthetically shallow direction, and all the inappropriate, second-grade bathroom humor flung about with the same reckless abandon as a caged monkey would its own feces, 'Blended' fits into Sandler's oeuvre as the surprisingly logical next step in his brand's message – thin as that message may be. That kind of consistency is rare for even the most celebrated of auteurs, so for there to be even a hint of textual uniformity in what is at first glance a seemingly scattered catalogue of childishness is rather remarkable.
In that regard, 'Blended' starts its protagonist Jim well past the portentous threat of responsibility that normally plagues Sandler's characters, by presenting him as a widower, a father of three daughters, and the manager of a Dick's Sporting Goods (because where there's Sandler, there's plenty of unnecessary product placement). There's not much backstory given surrounding the death of Jim's wife, but it does come as something of a surprise to his blind date Lauren (Barrymore), when in the middle of a disastrous first dinner at Hooters, she incorrectly presumes him to be divorced, like her.
Now, it is something of a risk to establish the two essential parts of a romantic comedy as unlikable, self-involved adults, unable to communicate on even the most basic level with another human being, but that's apparently how 'Blended' screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera saw fit to kick things off. Making the characters earn the affection of one another is one thing, but to make the audience do the same is taking a much larger risk.
And that risk is compounded by the potential distaste the audience might have for Barrymore's two adolescent sons Brendan and Tyler (Braxton Beckham and Kyle Red Silverstein, respectively), who are, if nothing else, the cinematic equivalent of birth control. Brendan is your average squeaky-voiced pre-teen who still harbors hope that his mother will reunite with his shallow, philandering father played with sublime smarminess by Joel McHale. The uncomfortable running gag is that no man is good enough for his mother, and he says so by commenting on how "hot" he thinks she is. Meanwhile, Tyler is a ticking time bomb of pent up frustration and unformed athleticism that is just waiting for a suitable father figure to guide him.
Conversely, two of Sandler's three daughters, played by Bella Thorne – the most recent product of the Disney Channel child-star machine – and Emma Furhman are the butt of a joke wherein they're constantly being mistaken for boys. The confusion is the result of their masculine haircuts and penchant for wearing tracksuits like their father. Furhman's character is even named Espn (pronounced: Es-pen) in case the physical aspect of the gender confusion joke was too subtle.
After an incredibly long set-up to establish the families, how much Jim and Lauren don't like one another, and how much they could both use a vacation, 'Blended' manages to ship them both off to South Africa through a plot contrivance so lazy it doesn't even bother to introduce the third party needed to make it possible. From there, the film becomes a series of mostly uninspired gags demonstrating how Jim and Lauren are not only right for one another, but they're each the perfect father or mother that's missing from the lives of their respective children.
Despite half of the film being set in South Africa, the film never bothers to explore its location. Jim, Lauren, and their respective broods stick close to the lavish resort they're staying in, rather than getting a true sense of the country, its history, or its rich culture. Far be it to expect a comedy such as this to explore notions of diversity, but in a film titled 'Blended,' one might think the topic could have at least been broached at one point or another.
Dull as it often is, the film is not without its shame-inducing laughs, however – most of which come courtesy of Terry Crews' Nickens, who is on hand to serenade the resort's guests at a moment's notice with oddly precise lyrics about their activities. Crews' act is so energetic and spirited it practically powers the film by itself. But even Crews' endless enthusiasm can't save the character from being empty archetypes – Kevin Nealon shows up as an unnecessary character whose whole raison d'etre is to show how sometimes second marriages can work out for the best, while Shaquille O'Neal is…Shaq in a Dick's Sporting Goods polo.
Sandler may very well have reached his creative nadir with 'Grown Ups 2,' and although 'Blended' does little to suggest that Happy Madison Productions will be looking for more challenging material anytime in the future, it does put forth some effort in suggesting a maturation of sorts going on behind the scenes, one where the recognition of an aging star means putting him in situations more befitting of his age, regardless the character's desire to act it.
At the very least, 'Blended' maintains a level of sweetness and some surprisingly well-calibrated melancholy to add the semblance of actual human emotion to portions of the film. What's weird is that these moments sometimes work, in spite of the awfulness surrounding them. Such instances are rare, but they do require the film to exert a modicum of storytelling energy that tries to justify the existence of what is essentially another Adam Sandler vacation video.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Blended' comes from Warner Bros. as a 2-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Download in the standard keepcase. The Blu-ray is a 50GB disc that contains the film, previews, and a handful of special features that are basically excerpts of the cast and crew's experiences, while on an African safari.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer is as bright and detailed as you would expect from a film released this year. The image does a terrific job of maintaining consistency throughout the film's many locations, as well as its differing time of day.
Detail remains high throughout. Facial features are sometimes a little flat, but still present. Texture is well represented in almost every scene, from costumes and wardrobes to background elements and set design. The film enjoys a deep depth of field, and as such, the level of fine detail becomes paramount during the outdoor sequences, when the story takes the characters into (not so) wild areas of the enormous vacation resort.
Contrast is also quite high throughout, offering nicely balanced whites that never look blown out, or run too hot – despite the film's setting. Black levels are very strong, producing rich, inky shadows that accentuate edges and produce full-bodied blacks that are free from banding or crush of any kind.
Additionally, colors are mostly rich and vibrant throughout – especially Terry Crews' wardrobe – which is accentuated by the colorful clothing worn in South Africa by not only the resort staff and locals, but also Sandler himself – Jim has a penchant for tracksuits that would make certain members of 'The Sopranos' envious. At any rate, the colors are all vibrant and beautifully rendered, adding another layer of depth to an already impressive image.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix excels in bringing the soundtrack's 'Lion King'-inspired elements to the forefront, while ensuring that dialogue and silly sound effects remain well represented and easily heard. Dialogue is primarily focused through the center channel speaker – unless it is one of Crews' songs, in which case it tends to utilize several different channels, depending on where the camera is positioned. Otherwise, rear channels manage to pick up background dialogue to help with atmosphere or for the occasional bit of directionality.
The sound can often be an immersive experience, as the mix works to establish a sense of place as frequently as possible. This means a busy park full of cricket players will be as bustling as an enormous dining room filled with vacationers who like their meals and activities included in the price of their accommodations. True, some of the sound effects are rather dull, but they do a nice job of creating a consistent, believable atmosphere that takes what is essentially a dialogue driven film and gives it an extra dimension. Through in some nice subtle LFE during a parasailing sequence and the mix becomes even more impressive.
Safari (HD, 3 min.) – The cast and crew of 'Blended' take a trip to a safari park to play with some wild animals.
Animals (HD, 4 min.) – More wild animal fun, but this time the focus is on the younger portion of the cast.
Parasailing (HD, 2 min.) – The impressive special effects of Drew Barrymore's hair-raising parasailing stunt is revealed.
Ostrich (HD, 2 min.) – This is a behind-the-scenes look at how the ostriches Adam Sandler and co-star Kyle Red Silverstein rode in the film were created using CGI.
Dick's Customer Service (HD, 2 min.) – Shaquille O'Neal shows off his comedic timing and his defense, as he challenges a few small children to a game of basketball inside a Dick's Sporting Goods store.
Herlihoops: Basketball Actor (HD, 1 min.) - A short sequence showing off the impressive basketball skills of producer Tim Herlihy.
Adam and Drew: Back Together Again (HD, 2 min.) – This is a quick interview with Sandler and Barrymore wherein they discuss what it's like working with one another
Bella Thorne's Makeover (HD, 2 min.) – Actress Bella Thorne discusses wearing a wig to make her look like a boy and they joys of having a professional do your make-up for you.
Nickens (HD, 2 min.) - Terry Crews discusses his character's motivations and fashion proclivities.
Gag Reel (HD, 6 min.)
Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 min.)
Georgia (HD, 3 min.) – This behind-the-scenes featurette shows the two shooting locations for the film: South Africa and Georgia. It also reveals what parts of the film were actually filmed in Georgia, but made to look like South Africa.
There's not much to like about 'Blended,' but, surprisingly, there's not much to hate about it either. Sandler and Barrymore don't enjoy the same level of chemistry as they did in 'The Wedding Singer' or '50 First Dates,' but there's enough spark left between them to keep the film going until it's inevitable end. And although most of the jokes fall flat, or are flat out observations dressed up as attempts at humor, Crews is always there to step in an liven things up – even if his routine gets a little stale by the end of the nearly two-hour film. With great image and sound, and some fun but meaningless extras, this one is worth a rental.