Lasciate ogne speranza, voi chi’intrate. How did it come to this? At the height of his power in Hollywood in 1999, Adam Sandler founded his own production company as a way to continue making the movies he enjoys. Over the years his films have slowly morphed into a pariah on the landscape of big budget studio comedies, becoming thinly veiled excuses for lavish vacations. But do they truly represent the nadir in the career of one of comedy’s once-brightest stars? Are there any hidden or underrated gems? Is there such a thing as too few fart jokes? Will I retain any sense of sanity by the end of this? Join me and find out, as we venture to the Happy Valley.

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood in the heyday of the studio system, and their individual filmographies are full of instant classics. They would go on to star in four films together (Bringing Up Baby is a personal favorite), and two of their collaborations ended up on AFI’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest films of all time. It’s easy to see why they worked so well together, as they had such a natural on-screen chemistry; Hepburn’s screwball energy paired greatly against Grant’s exasperated straight-man. Blended marks the third pairing between Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore (after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates), and while it may be unfair to compare the two to Hepburn and Grant, it remains a mystery why they continue to return to each other.

Barrymore’s career had faltered significantly since her first two Sandler collaborations, so it’s understandable why she would want to hitch her wagon to Sandler again for yet another family-friendly rom-com. Sandler and Barrymore do work well together, and the romantic elements between them are serviceable, but I felt absolutely nothing to justify her inclusion in the film. Surely Sandler could have found another A- or B-list starlet that would enjoy an African vacation on the Happy Madison dime. Indeed, I found Barrymore’s performance to be borderline terrible, especially in the first half. I’ve never professed to be an expert at the nuances of acting, and Happy Madison films by and large aren’t havens for acting showcases, but Barrymore’s line readings in some instances just don’t feel like they’re coming from a living, breathing human being.

Far too many rom-coms — even among the films in this project — lay their stakes on two unlikeable people finding a common interest and eventually falling in love, and Blended is no exception. The film opens with Sandler and Barrymore’s disastrous blind date, where Sandler takes her to Hooters, proceeds to ignore her in favor of televised sports, drinks her beer and continuously insults her. (What a compelling protagonist!) Why is he so standoff-ish? He lost his wife to cancer recently, which completely redeems him in the screenwriters’ (Clare Sera and Ivan Menchell) minds. Through a series of contrivances, the two continue to awkwardly cross paths, all the way to an African safari vacation with their children in tow. Sandler begins to bond with Barrymore’s two pubescent boys, and Barrymore does the same with Sandler’s three girls. Naturally, wacky (Africa-based!) hijinks ensue, and … well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict what happens from there. You almost have to admire Sandler’s chutzpah; not only did he film a glorified international vacation, but Blended is essentially a remake of his recent film Just Go With It with a few slight modifications.

What’s most noticeable about Blended is its diminished view of children and women. The film picks up the baton of regressive gender politics from Grown Ups 2 and applies it to Sandler’s children, especially Bella Thorne’s Hillary / Larry. You see, she has a short haircut and hasn’t exactly “filled out” yet, and so everybody mistakes her for a boy. Only once Barrymore provides her with a makeover does the teasing cease and the young girl truly begin to realize her worth. (Not coincidentally, it’s also here where she mostly fades into the background of the film.) Barrymore’s character goes through the same transformation, as she finally feels confident and sexy once she puts on a dress and heels. On the flip side, Barrymore’s teenage boys learn the true value of manliness in the form of sports and flirting with women. Is it expecting too much for a Sandler film to have more nuanced ideas on gender roles? Probably, but it’s these moments that hold the film back the most. Most frustratingly, the film gets the youthful experience of grief largely right, and the sweet moment between Sandler and his middle daughter at the end is one of the film’s highlights.

I kept waiting for Blended to make the most of its African destination but it never happened, beyond some showy shots of elephants, cheetahs and zebras, etc. 50 First Dates and, to a much lesser extent, Just Go With It, at least made justified their locales by featuring their natural splendor. Not that the film would have improved any more, but it could at least have made for an interesting conversation if Sandler had returned to Hawaii for Blended and made an unofficial trilogy. Instead, Blended makes one thing abundantly clear: What Adam Sandler wants, Adam Sandler gets.

  • “I’m Getting Paid How Much?!” Inexplicable Cameo Award: Lauren Lapkus appears as the babysitter on whom whom Drew Barrymore’s son has an obsessive crush. Lapkus has always been a solid improviser, but it’s a crime that she’s barely given any lines here.
  • Just Go With It – The Happy Madison Promise: If you look hard hard enough, you’ll find references to past Sandler comedies in nearly every film, but Blended even recycles a plot point from The Wedding Singer when Sandler goes to Barrymore’s house, only to be refuted by her ex-husband.
  • Fart Joke Counter: None! Though there is a gag where two very CGI’d rhinos have sex.
  • The Walkout Test: Easy pass.
  • NEXT TIME: You thought you had seen the end of the Happy Madison sequels? Guess again! A double-dip awaits us next week, as we cover both Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser.