With the surprisingly sweet and restrained "Blended," director Frank Coraci tops himself with a flat-out audience pleaser that bumps up the expectantly low Adam Sandler standards to something approaching intelligence and insight.
I know that's hard to believe, given Sandler's track record for making crude and infantile comedies pandering to the lowest common denominators of humor.
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"Blended"★ ★ ½
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Adam Sandler, Kevin Nealon, Terry Crews
Directed by: Frank Coraci
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual images, situations. 117 minutes
Outside of Paul Thomas Anderson's eccentric 2002 "Punch-Drunk Love," Coraci's 1998 "The Wedding Singer" ranked as Sandler's best rom-com, a sincerely charming, albeit formula, account of Sandler's growing attachment to Drew Barrymore's cute waitress.
Sandler reunites with Barrymore in "Blended" (they also appeared in "50 First Dates") and their crackling comic charisma, once youthful and promising, has matured and evolved into frustration and disappointment.
"Blended" opens with a blind date nightmare for Lauren (Barrymore), a recently divorced mom of two boys. She meets Jim (Sandler) at Hooters, where all the girls know him by name.
Already unimpressed, Lauren tries to talk with Jim.
"I naturally assumed you were divorced," she says.
"I assumed your husband shot himself," Jim coldly replies.
The date's a disaster.
But listen carefully, because the seemingly throwaway dialogue in Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera's sharp screenplay returns to cast these characters in completely different lights than what we assume at the beginning.
In a meet-cute plot twist, Lauren and her sons (Kyle Red Silverstein and Braxton Beckham) wind up on an exotic vacation in South Africa where they bump into -- you guessed it -- Jim, with his three daughters (Bella Thorne, Emma Fuhrmann and Alyvia Alyn Lind).
Wouldn't you know it, the posh resort has Lauren and Jim listed as a couple, so, naturally, they've been booked into the same living quarters. Nothing else available, of course.
Turns out that Lauren and Jim have arrived during "Blended" week at the resort, a celebration of blended families in all sorts and sizes, celebrated by a hilariously insightful South African Greek chorus headed by Terry Crews' effusive host Nickens, a major hunk of hamcake.
Sure, we know where "Blended" is headed. Yet, getting there is no small effort as Menchell and Sera's script erects a series of barricades to keep these two lonely singles from connecting on any level.
It falls to their children to slowly batter down those barricades, most of them false assumptions that Lauren and Jim have made about each other.
"Blended" wins no points for conciseness. At 117 minutes, it feels overextended. The bodily function jokes of past Sandler vehicles still remain, but they've wisely been minimized in favor of character development, especially with the kids, who come off as sympathetic, real personalities instead of simple-to-grasp rom-com types.
Former "SNL" member Kevin Nealon and Jessica Lowe supply laughs and a strange sort of guidance as Eddy and Ginger, an overly romantic couple at the resort. "Bridesmaids" star Wendi McLendon-Covey pumps pluck and pleasance into her perfunctory role as Lauren's best pal Jen. Joel McHale wisely portrays Lauren's ex-husband as manipulative and selfish without resorting to villainy.
Of course, this movie belongs to Sandler and Barrymore who connect with electricity and sparks. Alone, he's a groan. Blended, they're splendid.