It could have been a bit smarter and a lot shorter, but "Blended," the third big-screen pairing for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore (after "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates"), is a fun, often funny, largely enjoyable romp. The trick: Manage your expectations.
Following a disastrous first date at, of all places, Hooters, single parents Jim Friedman (Sandler) and Lauren Reynolds (Barrymore) accidentally find themselves and their kids stuck sharing an exotic vacation — one expressly designed for all kinds of blended families — at a safari resort in South Africa. How they get there is a long, not credible story, one best not over analyzed.
Jim, a widower, has three daughters: 15-year-old tomboy Hilary, a.k.a. Larry (Bella Thorne); the sensitive Espn (Emma Fuhrmann), yes, after the TV network; and sweet little Lou (Alyvia Alyn Lind). Divorcee Lauren has two boys: adolescent horndog Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and the younger, wildly hyperactive Tyler (Kyle Red Silverstein). Both parents are more than a tad clueless when it comes to raising their opposite-sex kids, which is to say, Jim and Lauren need each other.
It takes a while, of course, for the Friedmans and the Reynolds to warm up to one another as they navigate sleeping arrangements, dining protocol and some forced sightseeing. But soon, the kids are happily ogling lions, riding ostriches, improving at sports and getting glam makeovers. Meanwhile, buttoned-up Lauren goes parasailing and the scruffier Jim actually combs his hair to impress you-know-who.
Sure, the new symbiosis and Kumbaya vibe between and within these families is predictable. So is Jim and Lauren's tentative attraction. But there are enough amusing bits, lively visuals, cute music cues and nice emotional beats to carry the day.
Much mileage is also gained from the resort's omnipresent, nine-man harmony group called Thathoo (featuring members from the South African a cappella group Junior Mambazo). Terry Crews, playing the singers' shamelessly buff and ebullient frontman, is a hoot.
Though the film, directed by Frank Coraci ("The Wedding Singer") and written by Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera, contains a somewhat protracted, will-they-or-won't-they third act (two guesses — no, make that one — how Jim and Lauren end up), the story ultimately earns its feel-good stripes.
Barrymore is lovely and engaging here, while Sandler is well served by taking a more restrained and humane approach than usual; maturity becomes both actors.
Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale, Kevin Nealon, Jessica Lowe and even Shaquille O'Neal offer enjoyable support.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language.
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.