'Just Go With It'? No, Don't
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
This movie's title comes from an axiom repeated a couple of times throughout the picture, cited by one of the film's younger characters as a first principle of situational improvisation. There's quite a lot to "go with" in this latest Adam Sandler vehicle, not quite a romantic comedy and not exactly a sex farce. The star's very free-and-easy bachelor very nearly gets caught in lie after lie and has to wrangle more and more of his friends and associates into his tangled web in order to win the heart of the young hottie whom he thinks is the new love of his life.
"Just Go With It" is directed by Dennis Dugan from a script by Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling that is itself adapted from the 1969 Walter Matthau-Ingrid Bergman-Goldie Hawn starrer "Cactus Flower," which was itself adapted from a French play. It is a strange and largely unsatisfying animal that only very loyal fans of Sandler's schizoid-slick schlub schtick will find wholly satisfying. Old-school comedy fans who fear this picture will be an unspeakable desecration of a beloved classic (as someone who was never all that terrifically impressed with "Cactus Flower" despite its star power and the fact that it earned Hawn an Academy Award, I myself am not one of these folks) ought not worry. It strays so far from both the letter and the spirit of the earlier film that one can surmise that the clearing of the credit was not much more than an ass-covering gesture.
The hook on which Sandler hangs his character Danny is established in a prologue of sorts, in which younger Danny, accessorized with a huge fake schnoz, is betrayed by his bride-to-be almost just before heading for the altar. Wedding ring still on finger, he soon resolves to switch his med school major from cardiology to plastic surgery. He gets his own proboscis lopped down to size, and cuts a phallic swath through Beverly Hills, or wherever the heck in L.A. he's making a fortune with his practice, by posing as any married man who's ever being cheated on by his mythical wife. The shoulders, and the chestal areas, that he gets to cry on are impressive indeed. I need not point out that this premise, like so many in romantic comedies (or what passes for romantic comedies today), skates heavily on the thin ice of skeeviness, and does so in a way that resembles a beer commercial. But if you've seen enough such films, you know that this is just the way it is these days. (For what it's worth, the first film also trafficked in conventions that seemed "edgy" at the time, opening with the attempted suicide of its most vulnerable character.)
Soon enough, Danny falls very hard for a young, sweet and stacked blonde named Palmer (model Brooklyn Decker), who's not entirely pleased when she discovers a wedding band in his jeans pocket. Drat! She was gonna be the one he was gonna give up his over-20-year habit of amorous fraud for. And now he has to put on an even bigger show. He enlists his only confidant, his office assistant Katherine (Jennifer Aniston), to pose as a soon-to-be ex-wife. And soon her precocious but emotionally troubled children get into the act, as does Danny's horndog best friend, played by Nick Swardson, whom I imagine Rob Schneider, who's absent from this picture, must hate real bad by now. Off the whole entourage jets to Hawaii, and before you can say "What a 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' coincidence!" at the resort they run into the college rival (what these days we might call a "frenemy") of Katherine's (Nicole Kidman, of all people) whose first name Katherine is now going by, as part of Danny' hoax.
Whew. Got that?
Yes, it's complicated, as they say, but if you're going to give the film's screenwriting and directing credit for anything, clarity is that thing. Each twist of the rather repellent situation, no matter how ludicrous, is introduced coherently and with little fuss, or perhaps I should say concern; it's almost as if everyone involved believed scene-to-scene coherence or emotional continuity didn't matter much. And a lot of the time here, frankly, it doesn't.
If you enjoy Sandler's alternately underplayed and frantic delivery of sarcastic asides and such, there's a lot to like here, particularly in his interactions with the children (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck). He doesn't quite go full W.C. Fields on them, and sometimes -- or rather, more often than not -- the gags are overplayed ("Take it easy, Damien," Sandler drawls at a would-be menacing schoolboy under Palmer's charge, which is funny enough the first time, only the kid turns up pointing and raising an eyebrow twice more in the next minute). Still, one takes one's kicks where one can get them.
And Aniston, who's obliged to pretend to be a little frumpy at the outset, is more likable here than she's been in a movie since "Office Space," at least as far as I'm concerned. There's something almost endearingly stupid about a movie that obliges Aniston to go up against Oscar-winning-capital-"a"-actress Kidman in a hula contest (not to mention one that casts Dave Matthews in the role of Kidman's zonked-out husband, whose character's funny name is derived from that of an old writing partner of Sandler's). It's in this respect that "Just Go With It" is most successful. But in most other respects it's predictable, pat, and often a little more vulgar than it's really required to be. Flatly vulgar, at that.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.