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Movie Review

Just Go With it

Just go away: Latest Sandler film a thorny take on 'Cactus Flower'

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / February 11, 2011

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The new Adam Sandler movie is called “Just Go With It,’’ and before it’s recommended that you just go in the opposite direction (and you probably should), it’s worth considering a few items of interest. The movie is based on the 1969 Walter Matthau-Ingrid Bergman comedy “Cactus Flower,’’ for which an ingénue with an amazing haircut named Goldie Hawn won an Oscar. That movie was based on a French play, making “Just Go With It’’ as close as the French might want Sandler near their country.

But the weirdness refuses to end there. The remake also has parts for Jennifer Aniston, and, as an obnoxious power couple, Nicole Kidman and the musician Dave Matthews. The number of times men are pounded in the crotch suggests the movie is a comedy, but nearly everything else about it says “science fiction.’’ Kidman, who’s absent from the movie’s advertising campaign, tends to have that effect. She’s a singular presence — her height, those bones, the way she can pump more air into dialogue than Marilyn Monroe and make snow seem tan — that accessorizes with very little in modern films.

Seeing her in junk like this is a bit like watching the Queen of England eat a Taco Bell chalupa. But Kidman is canny. This is an opportunity to connect with the average moviegoer. So here she is in hula dance-off with Aniston and possibly poking fun at her marriage to Tom Cruise. Kidman has a rich, imaginative sense of humor and, even under these lousy circumstances, demonstrates a new ability to self-deprecate without self-destructing. She could use more junk in her life. Still, she can do better than this.

Sandler plays Danny Maccabee, a plastic surgeon who likes to pretend he’s married to prevent women from expecting too much the next morning. He gets serious about a woman who’s built like a swimsuit model (Brooklyn Decker) but claims to be a math teacher. She finds his adultery appalling. He says he’s getting a divorce. She wants to meet the wife. He backs his single-mother office manager, Katherine (Aniston), into playing Mrs. Maccabee then ropes in her kids and, to be Katherine’s German boyfriend, his idiot cousin (Nick Swardson).

The whole family winds up in Hawaii, where nothing too funny happens. Lots of people of color — Hispanics, native Hawaiians, the comedian Mario Joyner — are turned into buffoons, help, or buffoonish help. Though to be fair, Swardson, who’s white, is a one-man buffoon buffet.

Possibly as an expression of sympathy for the critics who strain to pan his movies in family-friendly publications, Sandler and his usual enablers (the screenwriter Allan Loeb and the director Dennis Dugan) this time provide a handy euphemism for fecal doings. It’s called a Devlin. This would be where Kidman comes in. She plays Katherine’s nemesis, a woman whose name is made to epitomize this bit of bathroom humor. Devlin pops up in Hawaii and turns the otherwise confident Katherine so petty and insecure that she tells Devlin that Danny is her husband.

“Cactus Flower’’ was a silly farce about bachelorhood and sexual liberation, with three interesting performances. The remake is almost two hours of gas. Aniston could have been as good as the first movie’s stars. She has both some of Hawn’s honeyed cadences and most of her crafted ditziness. But she has nothing smart to play. Watching her over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that she and Kidman are in the same boat. They’re short on men who match them. They’re best here with each other. If we’re remaking stuff from the ’60s, why not put them in “The Odd Couple’’?

It’s worth reiterating that this entire enterprise is perilously perched upon the notion that Decker, a fashion model, is so appealing that there’s nobility in upending at least four lives in order to keep bedding her. With all due respect to Decker and the man she has married (the tennis player Andy Roddick), she is not. In the film, Decker seems very much like a woman you’d find at most gyms or photo shoots. Any movie that asks us to believe, even in jest, that she’s more alluring than Aniston or Kidman is full of Devlin.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporter’s error, an earlier version of this review misstated the phony identity of one of the film’s characters. Danny’s cousin impersonates a German.

JUST GO WITH IT

Directed by: Dennis Dugan

Written by: Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling, based on “Cactus Flower,’’ a screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond, a stage play by Abe Burrows, taken from a French play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Nick Swardson, Brooklyn Decker, Dave Matthews, and Nicole Kidman

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 117 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (language and sheep are abused, crotches are slammed)

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