In ‘Blended,’ Sandler, Barrymore an amiable couple lost in thin premise

Nobody in movies is easier to denigrate than Adam Sandler, whose 20-plus years as a movie star (and producer) have admittedly generated some painful moments. He doesn’t have many defenders.

In “Blended,” for instance, Sandler expends a lot of energy on building characters and creating some semblance of emotional reality — and then he’ll end a scene with two rhinos copulating.

Why are there rhinos copulating in an Adam Sandler comedy? (If you are asking the question, you probably haven’t seen many of his movies.) In “Blended,” it’s because widower dad Sandler has gone on vacation to South Africa with his three daughters, and rhinos are nearby.

The movie’s gimmick is that a divorced mom (Drew Barrymore) is on the same trip with her two sons. She and Sandler had one terrible blind date, which led to a lasting mutual hatred — but they must try to make the best of this vacation.

For such a thin sitcom premise, Sandler and director Frank Coraci (who also directed the couple in “The Wedding Singer”) lavish a great deal of attention to detail. Each of the five kids, for instance, has a little story arc to follow, none of them especially inspired, but at least the movie’s paying attention.

That makes sense; Sandler’s original audience has aged along with him, and they have kids now, too. He’s canny about folding the mundane trials and tribulations of everyday family life into the slapstick.

There are plenty of problems. The weirdness of traveling to South Africa and staying in a Disneyland-style resort (complete with singing and dancing natives) is never remarked upon, although there is some time set aside for remarking on how beautiful the actual countryside is. As long as the view isn’t ruined by rhinos, etc.

For all the movie’s issues, I have to say that it hits a mood that Sandler’s films get when they’re clicking. There’s a loose, good-natured spirit about “Blended” that carries it along even through cornball jokes.

Running gags are maintained, and Sandler (as usual) creates lots of room for other performers. He’s never a ball hog when it comes to the comedy. There’s plenty of space for the likes of Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”), who plays Barrymore’s best friend, or pros like Kevin Nealon, Joel McHale and Terry Crews.

The scenes between Sandler and Barrymore are as likable as they were in “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates.” This is not sophisticated cinema, but some credit must be given to silliness that strikes an amiable chord, which “Blended” does.

“Blended” (2 and a half stars)

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore play feuding single parents who inadvertently take their families to the same South African resort. Nothing too great here, and there are plenty of corny jokes, but the film does create an amiable, feel-good atmosphere, and Sandler and Barrymore play well together.

Rating: PG-13, for subject matter

Opens: Friday at Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Oak Tree Cinemas, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall and Oak Harbor Plaza.

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