Occasionally, Adam Sandler will dip 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. The non-animated movies he makes under the banner of his production company, Happy Madison, are really live-action cartoons.
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 wife. Barrymore is Lauren, also 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 ends up being 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.
Forced to share quarters, the two parties initially hate each other. But gender order needs to be restored: Lauren manages to transform Jim's jockish eldest daughter Hilary (Bella Thorne) -- 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. And so on.
The movie's depiction of Africa is very much viewed through a Disneyfied prism -- country as theme park -- with rhinos used for not one but two off-colour sight gags.
Unexpected laughs do come courtesy of Terry Crews as Nickens, an obsequious resort entertainer who actually transforms into the movie's Greek chorus. Crews seems to appreciate that he's in 'toon town and he attunes his performance accordingly. At one point, he sings a love story by using his pectoral muscles as puppets.
It helps. On the whole, Blended is not as disagreeable as Sandler's recent comedies (Grown Ups, That's My Boy). Barrymore seems to mitigate Sandler's penchant for preening obnoxiousness, grounding him in something approximating emotional reality.
Like any good Disney cartoon feature, Blended duly strives to elicit tears as well as laughter. But the film doesn't really score big in either department. It's too haphazardly written and directed. Consider a romantic dinner scene in which 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 decidedly not.
One wishes Sandler would discover past masters of live-action cartoon sub-genre, such as Frank Tashlin, a former cartoonist and Disney gag man who eventually directed cartoony stars such as Jerry Lewis and Jayne Mansfield in movies such as Cinderfella and The Girl Can't Help It. Those films may not be enduring masterpieces, but at least they hang together.
Sandler's appeal has always been largely cartoony. He has the smart-aleck insouciance of Bugs Bunny coupled with the anger issues of Daffy Duck.
Alas, Sandler has only ever submitted to an auteur once (Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love). As in his other comedies, he is too content to work with hacks (in this case, Frank Coraci of Click and The Waterboy) who don't argue with Sandler's modus operandi of randomly throwing gags and pathos up on the screen in the hopes that something will stick.
Some does. Not enough.