★ ★ ★

It took the love of Drew Barrymore in The Wedding Singer to give Adam Sandler’s idiot man-child persona a dash of maturity. Being the career-savvy star that he is, Sandler smartly teamed with Barrymore again for 50 First Dates, a deeper movie that ended up being an even bigger box-office success than their first outing. Blended, which reteams the pair with Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci, succeeds largely because of the duo’s established (and still readily present) chemistry.

The movie opens with a disastrous blind date between Jim (Sandler) and Lauren (Barrymore). He’s the manager of a sporting-goods store who is still reeling from his wife’s death and the difficulty of raising three daughters, and she has her own business organizing people’s closets (yes, you read that right) and is raising two sons with little help from her selfish ex-husband (Joel McHale). His boss Dick and her business partner Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) are dating, and Dick had planned to take a weeklong trip to a South African resort in order to introduce her to his five children; however, Jen freaks out and refuses to go. Jim and Lauren sweep in and separately buy the vacation from their respective associates for cheap, with the result that these two feuding families find themselves in an exotic paradise together.

While there, Jim’s eldest daughter Hilary (Bella Thorne) crushes on the teenage son of their dinner-table companions, his middle daughter Espn (Emma Fuhrmann)—pronounced “ESS-pin” and named for dad’s favorite network, natch—continues to grieve for her mother, and the youngest kid simply acts adorable. Meanwhile, Lauren’s eldest son deals with his anger about his parents’ divorce, and her younger son learns to hit a baseball. And of course, the parents slowly get to know each other, and discover that each has something to offer the other’s children.

The movie’s tone is quite odd: It’s an unusual blend of conservatism and progressiveness. It wants to be a family-friendly PG-13 film, so it’s loaded with jokes about sex that are often a discomforting combination of bawdy and tame—there will be some awkward explanations afterward for any parents who take their tweens to this. However, the central theme of the movie—that Jim and Lauren have to learn to let go of the past for the good of their children—is a wholehearted endorsement of the importance of the family unit, even if the clan has taken a Brady Bunch-like path to togetherness.

What’s most surprising about Blended is that, even after an hour of almost-in-bad-taste jokes, Coraci pulls off a couple of credible dramatic scenes. When Jim has a heart-to-heart with Espn about her mother, it’s a touching scene thanks to Emma Fuhrmann’s graceful performance and Sandler’s underplaying. It works better than it has a right to, and the same can be said for the movie as a whole.

Perhaps some of the credit can go to co-screenwriters Clare Sera and Ivan Menchell, neither of whom has written for Sandler before. It’s tempting to assume that they gave the film enough emotional heft—not a lot, since this is a comedy—that it holds together even as Sandler and company fill the frame with fourth-wall-crumbling looks at the camera, a terribly edited parasailing sequence featuring stock footage of African animals, and monkeys playing musical instruments during a romantic dinner between the two leads.

Sandler and Barrymore are funny when they bicker, but they bring out an irresistible sweetness in each other during their tender scenes. No matter how stupid the film gets, it never fully extinguishes our hope that these two end up together. Throw in amusing turns from Terry Crews as a very enthusiastic singer and Kevin Nealon as a man enjoying his buxom new trophy wife, as well as quality work from Thorne and Fuhrmann, and Blended winds up being yet another example of a Sandler and Barrymore comedy that’s better than expected.