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Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer Not-Busters: Blended (2014)

Director: Frank Coraci
Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore
Domestic Box Office: $46,294,610

How do you properly criticize a movie that, by its own star's admission, exists as a result of him reverse engineering himself a paid vacation? When so little effort has been made to actually create something, when the movie itself is merely something that's been slapped together to justify the expense of its own production, then what is there to honestly criticize? In those circumstances, it's almost like the movie doesn't even actually exist and to criticize it would be like criticizing the home movie someone made during their vacation, except that the home movie would have lower production values but be much more watchable. Blended is an extremely lazy movie, even by the standard of Adam Sandler movies. It's a film without purpose, without charm, and infused by the sort of passive racism that isn't unusual when "Africa" is viewed through the lens of white people's eyes (for the record, the actual country they go to is South Africa and the actual place is Sun City, though you'd be excused for not knowing that since, save for one occasion, the film prefers to generically refer to it as simply "Africa"). By, hey, at least Adam Sandler got to see a giraffe.

Reteaming for the third time after the much more successful films The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, Sandler and Drew Barrymore play Jim and Lauren, respectively, who start the film in the midst of a terrible blind date and go their separate ways vowing never to see each other again. Jim is the widowed father of three girls - Hilary (Bella Thorne), Espn (Emma Fuhrmann), and Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind) - and is the manager of a sporting goods store. Lauren is the divorced mother of two boys - Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) - and is a closet organizer. After their terrible date they end up meeting again at a drug store, where Jim is struggling to sort through the various brands and types on the shelf so that he can pick up some tampons for Hilary (as if a woman has ever sent a man to a store to get anything without being very specific about the type and brand she wants), and Lauren is trying to buy a porno magazine for Brendan to replace the one she found under his bed and tore up because he'd pasted a photo of his babysitter's face onto the centerfold (one of the film's favorite recurring gags is Brendan's sleeping, post-masturbation face, which would be gross even if this wasn't a young kid). To save themselves some embarrassment at the checkout til, they agree to buy each other's item, which results (somehow) in their credit cards getting switched.

When Jim realizes the mistake and goes to Lauren's house to correct it, they learn that Lauren's best friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) has been dating Jim's boss, Dick, and has just broken up with him because he's surprised her with the news that he has five kids and thought that the week-long vacation they were about to take would be the perfect time for her to meet and get to know them. With the trip now called off, Jim talks Dick into selling the trip to him, while Lauren talks Jen into giving the trip to her - how Jen has "half" a trip to give to Lauren is a mystery, seeing as Dick made all the arrangements and paid for everything, but logic has no place here. The point is that when everyone shows up - with one half of the party surprised to see the other half for some reason, despite the fact that they would have been on the same plane and, presumably since they took Dick and Jen's tickets, sitting all together - the party consists of the exact number of adults and the exact number of children that the resort was expecting, allowing them to pass as the "Theodopolis" party. While they're in "Africa," Jim and Lauren still dislike each other, until suddenly they don't because the movie is almost over.

If you took out all the plot contrivances in the story, Blended would probably run at a total of no more than 20 minutes and attain the same level of quality and narrative urgency. All the film wants is to get to "Africa" and it doesn't particularly care how inelegantly it bends the characters and story to get there. Being in "Africa" is the whole reason the movie exists, which is actually kind of strange when you think about it and consider how much of the film's middle section, when the two families are actually on vacation, is spent within the confines of the hotel part of the resort. Sure, they get out and spend a day at a game preserve, which allows the film to pad things out a bit with some B-roll of animals doing their thing, but for the most part they stick to the hotel, where the film can advance what passes for plot in a series of family meals in the dining room. And then, after wasting the better part of two hours, the film wraps things up with the easiest, laziest moral possible, that parents should be there for their kids. The dumbed-down simplicity of that might be the most offensive thing about Blended were it not for the film's tactless portrayal of the locals at the resort, which amounts to minstrelsy with the characters depicted as buffoonish and obsequious, lazy and dumb, or forever singing and dancing for the pleasure of the predominantly white audience at the resort. That the main characters keep referring to the location as simply "Africa," as if that signifies something specific, only adds insult to injury.

Blended miscalculates a lot of things, but it's greatest miscalculation lies in being put out as a summer release. Although Sandler has several genuine summer hits to his credit, outside of the Grown Ups movies those hits aren't recent. Weirdly, for an actor so closely associated with lowest common denominator humor, Sandler movies tend to do well with a Valentine's Day release, including his previous two films with Barrymore, The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, which were released on February 13th of 1998 and 2004, respectively. That's not to say that, had Blended been released around Valentine's Day it would have been a hit, as both The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates were designed for cross appeal, delivering a mix of Sandler's angry man-child schtick with something sweeter and gentler, and both of those movies are actually trying (though, it should be noted, that 50 First Dates' Hawaiian setting is apparently what kicked off Sandler's make-a-movie-to-take-a-vacation strategy), but it might have done slightly better at the box office, despite the fact that it isn't trying at all. Blended just is. And, man, is it ever terrible.

Should It Have Been a Blockbuster?: No, never


Dell said...

I completely agree with your assessment of this one, especially the minstrelsy in display. I cringed every time Terry Crews and company turned up on screen. By now, Sandler has plenty of money and can afford to take a vacation without unleashing it on an unsuspecting public.

Norma Desmond said...

I know, right? The guy makes more in a year than most of us will make in our entire lives but he needs someone else to pay for his vacation?