Oh, if perennial Razzie-winner Adam Sandler must keep making movies, I suppose they are less terrible when he includes his sweetest co-star, Drew Barrymore. She always brings out the best in him (“The Wedding Singer,” “50 First Dates”). The imperishable sunniness of Drew can somehow persuade us that Sandler is not as unlikeable as he seems. Sandler just might escape the Razzie award for cinematic atrocity this year. That might not be progress, but at least it’s a respite.
Thankfully, Sandler does not do that awful baby-voice or force Rob Schneider into another disgusting cameo in “Blended,” and no one has sex with an old lady. So, as Adam Sandler movies go, this is not as terrible as some of them. Yay! Of course that does not mean that Sandler foregoes his trademarks: a lot of gross-out humor involving bodily parts and functions, adults behaving like children and children precociously preoccupied with sex, and a lazy, almost haphazard approach to the story. Plus: Sandler regulars Kevin Nealon and Alexis Arquette, the genuinely funny Terry Crews and Wendy McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”), a bunch of less funny people in the credits with the last name “Sandler,” a walloping product placement placement from a tourism bureau, this time South Africa, and a gooey, sentimental, retro vibe to remind us that boys are boys and girls are girls and it is great to be part of a family. While there was laughter in the theater, it is telling that following a fire alarm and brief evacuation, about a third of the audience decided not to come back. Consider yourself warned.
Sandler plays Jimmy, manager of a sporting goods store and single father of three girls he calls by boy names, one named for his favorite television network: Espn. He dresses them in khakis and polo shirts. Drew plays Lauren, a single mother of two sons, one who throws tantrums when he strikes out in Little League, one exploding with adolescent hormones.
We meet Jimmy and Lauren on their disastrous blind date, for each of them the first date since before they were married. They are awkward with each other and agonizingly uncomfortable. He brings her to Hooters. She has not one but two spit-takes. He looks at the TV while she’s talking. “There’s a very tight game going on up there.” And he insults her closet organizing business. “Did you start by organizing glove compartments?” They agree on just one thing — they never want to see each other again.
But then they end up on the same trip to Africa. Lauren and Jimmy discover they are on the “blended family-moon,” a special week for second-marriage couples and their children. Their loathing turns to respect and affection as they go on adventures and bond with each other’s children. If you guessed that this bonding would include a makeover for Jimmy’s 15-year-old girl (hair extensions, lipstick, miniskirt) to help her achieve her goal (attention from a boy) and batting practice and boxing lessons for Lauren’s sons, then you are familiar with the “Brady Bunch”/Bazooka Joe level of plot and character development that Sandler inflicts on his fans. The retro humor crosses the line from lazy to skeezy, with locker-room-style gender and sexual orientation jokes that were outdated twenty years ago.
Intended to be a laugh riot: a child repeatedly having his head slammed into walls and doors when his mother tries to carry him, a young teenager who puts his babysitter’s face on a nude fold-out that he keeps under his bed, a “meet cute” involving the two leads’ mutual inability to cope in the drugstore as Jimmy is trying to buy tampons for his daughter and Lauren is trying to buy porn for her son. There is attempted comedy about the appropriate tampon circumference for a 15-year-old and the appropriate masturbation material for a middle schooler.
Closer to the mark: the always-great Terry Crews as a pec-popping tummeler with a traveling group of township jive-singers, ubiquitous white minivans, and a couple of the jokes. A couple as in two.
Most of the jokes are disappointingly lazy, as usual in Sandler films. These are joke-ish, not actual jokes. In one scene, Jimmy’s youngest daughter (a darling Emma Fuhrmann) looks in a mirror and realizes that what she thought was cute kitty cat make-up face paint applied by her father was a mess. She screams that she looks like the “Walking Dead.” This is supposed to be funny because she is surprised that it looks different from what she envisioned and because a little kid knows about “The Walking Dead.”
But it’s a sloppy, easy, cheap joke, and it’s a sloppy, easy, cheap movie. Sandler should keep working with Drew Barrymore, and next time he should also film a script that has had more than one draft.
Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language for a PG-13 and a lot of sexual humor including extended references to teen masturbation and discussion of adultery and divorce and jokes about Kegel exercises, bondage, a 15-year-old’s private parts, cameltoe, animals having sex, and giving someone a rufie. There is comic peril and violence and a sad off-screen death of a parent and a joke about developmental disabilities.
Family discussion: What did Lauren and Jimmy learn from watching each other as parents? Which of the activities in Africa would you like to try?
If you like this, try: “The Wedding Singer”