Adam Sandler has not had a good track record lately. He’s had some cute family films, sure – like “Click” and “Bedtime Stories” – but his most recent fare for older viewers, like 2007’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and 2008’s “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” have been immeasurably bad. Two guys pretending to be gay and an Israeli hairdresser trained in the art of war are not the basis of funny movies, and their huge profits should make all of us ashamed.
But Sandler rebounds from those flubs and the 2010 misstep of “Grown Ups” (sadly, another whopping commercial success) with “Just Go With It,” a somewhat enjoyable romantic comedy that is at times marred by Sandler’s unnecessarily crude humor but otherwise benefits from a supporting cast including Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman. An adaptation of the 1969 film “Cactus Flower,” in which a man falls in love with a younger woman but solicits his nurse to pose as his wife in order to cover up a previous lie he told the girlfriend, “Just Go With It” keeps much of that plot intact while updating it with modern touches (nudity, gay jokes) and Brooklyn Decker, a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model who will basically make every woman in the audience hate herself. I speak from experience.
The film begins at a 1980s wedding, where Danny Maccabee (Sandler) is preparing to get married; he calls the whole thing off, however, when he overhears his bride bragging about sleeping with another man and boasting that she’s only marrying Danny because he plans to become a doctor. Weighed down by sadness – and a huge prosthetic nose that is obviously meant to signify Danny’s Jewish background but is really just profoundly distasteful – Danny, still wearing his now-unnecessary wedding ring, drowns his sorrows at a nearby bar, where a super-hot woman asks him if he’s married. Spinning a lie about a neglectful, cheating wife, Danny gets the sympathetic girl to take him home – and decades later, Danny, now a plastic surgeon, is still using the ring to bag one-night stands.
But Danny begins to rethink this commitment-less existence when he meets Palmer (Decker), a smoking hot 23-year-old who teaches at a local Los Angeles elementary school. Inspired to build a relationship after their one night together, Danny has his plans derailed when Palmer finds his fake wedding ring in his pocket – and soon Danny is creating a lie that he has a soon-to-be ex-wife who is addicted to pills and shopping. Palmer is fine with the divorce – but wants to meet the ex-wife before she can continue dating Danny.
That’s where Danny’s assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) and her two children, the acting-bug-bit Maggie (Bailee Madison) and the silent, brooding Michael (Griffin Gluck), come in. By coaxing Katherine to pose as his wife and Maggie and Michael to pose as their children, Danny creates a tangle of lies that only gets more complex when Michael blackmails Danny into taking them all to Hawaii. Add in Danny’s cousin Eddie (Nick Swardson), who poses as the man Palmer is told Katherine cheated on Danny with, and Devlin (Nicole Kidman), a former sorority sister Katherine hates who just happens to be at the same Hawaiian hotel, and the web is complete.
Since Sandler is working off a former film, the plot, while being full of fake identities, is surprisingly tidy; it doesn’t meander like “Grown Ups” did, despite being eight minutes longer. Instead, each absurd situation transitions well into the next, like when Eddie is forced to give CPR to a dying sheep and Katherine and Danny have to compete against Devlin and her husband in a competition to see who can move a coconut up their bodies without using their hands. The humor is equally distributed, with Aniston showing her comic timing and take-no-crap attitude (think how she acted as the frustrated Rachel to the dreamy Ross in “Friends”); Kidman succeeding as Katherine’s hoity-toity frenemy; and the two children, Madison and Gluck, excelling at rolled eyes and exasperated expressions. Sandler doesn’t really have to do much here – he kind of phones it in while the rest of the cast does the work.
But while the movie works in a lot of fun, there’s so much here that is just crass and unnecessary: the huge fake noses to signify Danny’s religion, the irresponsible and irrational minority characters (like a Hispanic nanny who plays video games all day and a Hawaiian babysitter who is morbidly obese and lazy), the grotesquely malformed plastic surgery patients, the typical gay and fat jokes. It would be too much to expect a Sandler film to be totally mature, but those elements are pointless and jarring. The PG-13 rating fits because of the film’s vulgar language, sexual content (Decker is a model, so there are numerous shots of her glistening body and cleavage, and one implied scene with her totally nude), potty humor (sometimes literally), really disgusting victims of bad plastic surgery – think unmoving faces distorted into creepy shapes – and emotionally mature content, such as the ramifications of Katherine’s divorce on her children. Older teens yes, younger teens no.
Overall, “Just Go With It” is certainly a step above “Grown Ups” and Sandler’s other recent work. How much of a ringing endorsement that is, however, depends on your own sense of humor and how much of Sandler’s absurdity you’re willing to take.