REVIEW: Flickers of Comic Life Can't Survive Deeply Crappy Just Go With It
There is something to be said for knowing what to expect, or there can be. Just Go With It, Adam Sandler's latest brand vehicle, opens with a flashback to a Long Island bride primping with her bridesmaids on the big day. One of them has a nose the size and shade of a Chinese eggplant stuck to the front of her face. It's one of the first things we see, and it sets the tone and the bar defiantly low -- if a movie could snicker at itself, the vacuum-sealed silences that frame many of the jokes in this one would at least have the laugh track it seems to have forgotten to add in post.
I suppose the nose itself was expected -- I knew going in that Just Go With It is the work of the team that brought the world Grown Ups (Dennis Dugan directs), and I adjusted accordingly. The premise is a wide load, and the opening doesn't pretend otherwise: Danny (Adam Sandler) has the same nose as what turns out to be his sister, and his wedding is a bust. Heartbroken, he meets a beauty disarmed by the ring still on his finger, and a pick-up artist is born: "Being fake married is the best way to make sure I never get my heart broken again," he tells us. And being open to total, unmitigated imbecility is your best chance of enjoying anything in this exceptionally puerile film.
The problem is even dutifully lowered expectations will be out-maneuvered by a comedy that fails to find its own level. Adapted from the same French play as the 1969 film Cactus Flower, Just Go With It attempts to merge farce and romantic comedy with the Sandler sensibility, and the result is a story that evades where it should engage and a whiplash tone that dispirits when it should delight. Danny becomes a plastic surgeon, and his patients -- including Rachel Dratch a very funny Kevin Nealon -- are played for laughs as broad as the honker he downsized as soon as he was able. A good doctor with a faithful assistant named Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), Danny's private practice of lying without limits is presented as a similarly hilarious conceit ("I just assumed that after we got married she'd stop hooking," he tells one mark).
At a tacky house party he meets Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), a slow-motion blonde who works with -- what else -- children. One walk on the beach later Danny's whole life has changed: He's connecting with a woman for the first time. Decker's nipples make a more convincing argument for the attraction; whenever she opens her mouth the spell of her physical charisma is broken. As though her own nipples were alerted to a potential upstaging, about 20 minutes in Aniston gets a Rodeo Drive makeover after she agrees to help Danny convince Palmer that the wedding ring she finds is the last remnant of their failed marriage. The body comes out, as it will whenever doubt about Aniston's enduring hotness edges in. This is by far the crappiest thing about this deeply crappy film: Over and over, the women disrobe while the men sit back and evaluate, compare, and contrast. This is primal, social order stuff; an attentive gopher would get the gist.
Aniston actually gets to flex something other than her inner thighs as Devlin, the fake ex she names after her sorority nemesis. It's only one scene, but she lays out her chops and then shreds the screen as a Beverly Hills nightmare. Although she is forced to maintain the pretense (Palmer assumes single mother Katherine's two children are Danny's, too) across an ocean and 90 more minutes of lame situational horseplay, from that scene on Aniston is absorbed into the comedic void that begins sucking the life out of everything on screen and the will to laugh out of those watching. She becomes our sarcastic surrogate, pounding punch during one of Eddie Swardson's unconscionably tedious runs (he plays Danny's cousin, who pretends to be Devlin's German lover against everyone's wishes, including mine) and exclaiming that she needs a stack of index cards to keep all of Danny's lies in order.
The lies stop mattering because they're not rooted in anything true, which means when Danny and Katherine swerve into what's supposed to be an actual attraction it feels as false as Palmer's gleaming credulity. The farce flops because it never finds a workable rhythm or logic of its own to obey. The players are left exposed amid these unfinished elements, and because this is an Adam Sandler movie, the ladies are caught out to more spectacular effect. The beautiful casting of Nicole Kidman as an old-school underminer succumbs to the Sandler effect, and her character is quickly reduced to an opportunity for two deft actresses to shake their asses in competitive close-up.
At its best, Just Go With It suggests what might have been a super silly love story that messed with convention to clever effect: A poignant, pop-song montage of our two lead characters pining for each other privately cuts unexpectedly to include a third party, and a quiet, gross-out interlude. Danny's pictorial staging of a psychotically happy day out with his "kids" (against the moppet odds, Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck get some of the best laughs) escalates past its earned funniness into something antic and fresh. But on the whole the film lacks the confidence and the skill to do any one thing well and consistently, and its worst, crudest, most godawful impulses wind up as the definitive ones.