I’m “biast” (con): I hate Adam Sandler and everything he stands for
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Attempting to determine the very worst thing about the oeuvre of Adam Sandler is akin to trying to decide which sort of cancer is the most horrible: even to finally settle on one isn’t to say that all the rest aren’t blights on humanity. But I think I may now have it.
It’s the smugness. The Sandler smug reaches a new nadir of appalling with Blended. For everything is presented with the same self-satisfied confidence that the audience is entirely onboard with the indisputable fact of every assumption with which the film presents us. “Parents should always be there for their kids” is thrown out here as existing on the same level of “clearly obvious truth” as “lesbians are hilarious,” “teenaged girls who aren’t Barbie dolls will constantly be mistaken for boys, and this is appropriate and hilarious,” “horrible bratty children who behave like violent felons are hilarious,” and “black people are wonderfully kooky minstrel entertainers, and hence hilarious.”
When I say that Blended is “Adam Sandler goes to Africa, via the tampon aisle,” I am being factually descriptive of this physically repulsive excuse for a movie. After an absurdly long setup that involves single dad Jim (Sandler: Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy) and single mom Lauren (Drew Barrymore: Big Miracle, Everybody’s Fine) having a terrible blind date and then later meeting ugly — the opposite of the meet-cute — in the feminine hygiene section of a drugstore, they find themselves, along with their collective five kids, on a family holiday in South Africa. Don’t ask how it could possibly happen that two people who despise each other — and rightly so; they’re awful, and so is almost everyone else in this movie — can end up being surprised to discover that they are not only in the same far-distant foreign country, not only in the same resort hotel, but also forced to share a suite and every meal together. Even screenwriters Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera don’t seem to know how this could reasonably happen, and hope that we won’t notice — or won’t care — how they elide right over even the most major of plausibility issues.
The African stuff that makes up the too-chunky center of the movie was shot at the Sun City resort in South Africa, which was created as a luxury fantasy retreat for rich whites during the apartheid era. It’s like Disney World and Las Vegas wrapped up together, and it looks about as authentic as Epcot Center. If it didn’t already exist, it would have had to be invented for this movie, which appears to presume that “Africa” isn’t an enormous continent of varied cultures, but an invented exotic backdrop in which romance between visiting white Westerners will naturally blossom.
Oh, haven’t I mentioned? We are intended, from the very beginning, to see Jim and Lauren as perfect for each other and destined to be together. And even while your skin is crawling when they are “forced” to participate in a couples’ massage session, the movie is trying to force you to see them as adorable together. We are offered no evidence for the inevitability of their impending couplehood; we are presumed, perhaps, to have brought over some sort of good feeling from Sandler and Barrymore’s previous outings together, in The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. (I’ve seen neither movie, and can’t imagine I’d have found them appealing there either.)
That’s not even the best example of the can’t-be-bothered laziness of Blended. Sandler’s typical reflexive cruelty is a given — making fun of children really is low, but not unexpected. But there’s also random grandma abuse. There is no “joke” that won’t be rerun a dozen times, beaten until it’s dead, and then run over by a steamroller, just in case you missed it the first hundred times. There’s a take right into the camera — by one of those “funny” minstrel servant types — who shares the wisdom that “you won’t see that in New Jersey” after a sight that is considered to be comically shocking. There is some blatant product placement that is not only blatant product placement but also structured as an attempt at rehabilitation for that brand, which does not have the greatest of reputations. And of course, there is the stuff like a moment meant to be charming and sweet (and might be, in another context) that is interrupted by the sound of Sandler urinating nearby. We don’t even have to guess that Sandler — and by extension his presumed audience — is terrified of actual human emotion, because Jim states flat out that this is the case.
Wait! Maybe that’s the worst thing about Sandler movies: He cannot bear to let any moment onscreen not be about him and his smugness and his childish idiocy, even if it means he literally has to piss his way into a scene.