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Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler

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Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler

Blended

ADAM Sandler occasionally dips his toes into the realm of the feature-length cartoon (Hotel Transylvania, 8 Crazy Nights), but such projects are superfluous when you look at the big picture of his career. His non-animated movies are just as cartoony as his animated ones.

This has never been more apparent than it is with Blended, his third rom-com team-up with Drew Barrymore after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates.

The premise is real-world. Sandler plays Jim, a widower trying to raise his three daughters without his beloved dead wife. Barrymore is Lauren, likewise struggling to raise her two pubescent sons in the absence of her vile, responsibility-shirking ex (Joel McHale).

The two are set up on a blind date that registers as disastrous thanks to Jim's choice of fine dining establishments (Hooters) and his uneasiness with taking a long delayed second dip into the dating pool.

But circumstances force them together until they both find themselves -- with kids in tow -- at a deluxe holiday resort in South Africa catering especially to blended families.

The movie strives to create proper gender order from chaos as Lauren manages to transform Jim's jockish eldest daughter Hilary -- whom Jim calls "Larry" for short -- into the lovely, feminine creature she longs to be. Jim takes Lauren's hot-headed, manic son Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein) under his wing to teach him how to calm down and hit a baseball, albeit with a cricket bat. And so on.

The movie's depiction of Africa is very much viewed in a colour-saturated Disneyfied prism -- country as theme park -- with rhinos used for not one but two off-colour sight gags.

Blended is not as disagreeable as Sandler's recent comedies (Grown-Ups, That's My Boy). Barrymore's presence seems to mitigate Sandler's penchant for preening obnoxiousness, grounding him in something approximating emotional reality.

But it's all too haphazardly written and directed. Consider a climactic romantic dinner scene in which both the service and musical entertainment are provided by trained monkeys. A character will later insist that's "hilarious" but anybody who has actually witnessed the scene knows it is not.

Sandler himself has cartoon appeal -- the smart-alec insouciance of Bugs Bunny coupled with the anger issues of Daffy Duck. (One could see him taking either side of the great Duck Season/Rabbit Season debate.)

Alas, Sandler doesn't seem to be trying anymore. As in his other comedies, he is content to work with hacks (take a bow, Frank Coraci) who are content with Sandler's modus operandi of randomly throwing gags and pathos up on the screen in the hopes that something will stick.

HH

 

Welcome Back Kotter: The Complete Series

IT may be argued that comedian Gabe Kaplan set the stage for Jerry Seinfeld with his series Welcome Back Kotter (1975-79). Kaplan's role of an acerbic, wisecracking Brooklyn high school teacher hewed close to his persona as an acerbic, wisecracking stand-up comic.

As with Seinfeld, not much acting was required.

The Shout Factory release of the entire series exemplifies the lifespan of the typical sitcom. It starts with an intriguing premise (a former Brooklyn kid reluctantly returns to his old stomping ground as a teacher) and establishes a formula, including Kaplan telling his wife (Marcia Strassman) a joke at the beginning of every show. It eventually degenerates as key actors leave the show and writers resort to stunts (Gabe and his wife have twin girls!) in an effort to retain viewership.

And, oh yes, there was a catchphrase: "Up your nose with a rubber hose."

It emerged that Kotter's most valuable asset was John Travolta as Sweathogs heartthrob Vinnie Barbarino. Disc 1 of this collection includes Travolta's screen test for the role and it's a treat to see him (under the character's original name "Vinnie Barbarini") decisively nailing the role with a mixture of charm, swagger and sheer star quality.

Travolta would go onto greater things. Kotter was not among them: The show has not aged especially well. If the milieu is tough and gritty, the show's execution is stagey and corny.

HHH

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2014 C16

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