(by Dustin Putman
"Just Go with It" is a remake of 1969's Walter Matthau-Ingrid Bergman-Goldie Hawn screwball comedy "Cactus Flower," itself based on a 1965 Broadway show by Abe Burrows that was adapted from the French play "Fleur de cactus" by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy (phew!). It may be a little raunchier and certainly broader, but anyone who has seen more than a few Adam Sandler movies knows he's a big softy at heart. With Sandler's near-regular director Dennis Dugan (2010's "Grown Ups") by his side and the assistance of screenwriters Allan Loeb (2011's "The Dilemma") and Timothy Dowling (2008's "Role Models"), he rounds off the pricklier edges of the earlier film and comes out with something that is less snarky and certainly a whole lot funnier and sweeter. Article continues below
Twenty-three years ago, Danny Maccabee (Adam Sandler) was left at the altar, then discovered by happy accident that wearing his would-be wedding ring increased his desirability factor to other women tenfold. In present-day Beverly Hills, Danny has become a successful plastic surgeon and remained single by choice, the latter detail a fact he seriously considers changing after falling for 23-year-old middle school math teacher Palmer (Brooklyn Decker). For once, he doesn't even think to use the wedding ring trick—that is, until she finds it anyway in his pants pocket. Forced to think quick, Danny devises a false story about how he's in the midst of getting a divorce. Enter Danny's trusty assistant Katherine Murphy (Jennifer Aniston), who he convinces to play his soon-to-be ex-wife for what they assume will just be one mutual dinner with Palmer. The mistruths spin fast and wildly from there, and before long Katherine's kids, Maggie (Bailee Madison) and Michael (Griffin Gluck), are also pulled into the charade as the lot of them find themselves vacationing in Hawaii with Palmer and Danny.
"Just Go with It" skates perilously close to what might have been an audience-insulting plot that could be solved in a minute's time were the characters treated with half the intelligence of real human beings. That's still kind of true, but the viewer finally just goes with it when the point is made that Danny—a good man inside—has felt heartbreak in his past and, trying to avoid it again, gone through his adult life not being honest with anyone. Anyone, that is, but Katherine. So amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny are the proceedings that there isn't much time, anyway, to nitpick the narrative's stretches in logic and plausibility.
As Danny, Katherine, Maggie and Michael—and later still, Danny's cousin Eddie (Nick Swardson), pretending to be Katherine's new German boyfriend Dolph Lundgren—get deeper in over their heads the more fibs they are forced to tell, the movie keeps interest from flagging as the viewer eagerly awaits what sticky situation they'll find themselves in next. From Katherine's supposed pill-popping, to aspiring actress Maggie's decision to play daughter Kiki Dee with a British accent, to the discovery that Katherine's college frenemy Devlin (Nicole Kidman)—the name she has been using in her pretend role as Danny's spouse—is staying at the same hotel in Hawaii, the daffy "Three's Company"-style humor keeps the film's rhythm moving even when certain scenes, like a hula contest between Katherine and Devlin, drag on too long.
Of course, there is never any doubt who Danny will end up with at the end of the film (hint: it's not the sweet-natured, big-chested blonde who fondly recalls being in Girl Scouts in 1995 and pinpoints 'NSync's breakup as her saddest memory). What is so refreshing, however, is that Danny and Katherine don't start the movie hating each other, but have a friendly longtime working relationship and a shorthand to their barbed sense of humor. Adam Sandler (2009's "Funny People") is not exactly stretching with the role of Danny Maccabee—it's a version of the same one he's played with relative charm and ease since the mid-'90s—but he does it well. As Katherine, Jennifer Aniston (2009's "Love Happens") is a match unlike any Sandler's had since probably Drew Barrymore in 1998's "The Wedding Singer." An active participant in the narrative, just as important as Danny and never falling to the wayside like some generic love interest, Aniston looks to be having a splendid time with a part that is graceful and funny, yet rooted in an emotionally true reality. When Danny and Katherine are goaded by Devlin into sharing out loud all the things they like about each other, Aniston's and Sandler's romantic chemistry is undeniable.
The supporting cast is more hit-and-miss. First, the good. Bailee Madison (2010's "Conviction") steals her scenes as the theatrical young Maggie, her British accent put-on never failing to rustle up laughs. Nicole Kidman (2010's "Rabbit Hole"), hidden out of sight in the advertising and promotional campaign, hasn't been this loose and spontaneous since, perhaps, 2001's "Moulin Rouge." It's nice to see her in a comedy again after several years concentrating on heavy dramas; her Devlin, at first shown to be quite superficial, ultimately reveals unexpected and appreciative layers by the end. And, in a hilarious one-scene bit, Rachel Dratch (2009's "My Life in Ruins") is a spitfire as an eyebrow-afflicted patient of Danny's.
Less successful are Brooklyn Decker, a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model making her feature acting debut, who has trouble holding her own against the other, more seasoned actors. Decker is appealing as Palmer, but little is asked of her. Her relationship with Danny also is absent of spark and connection, so it never quite gels that he believes she's the one. Palmer's continued insistence that she spend time with the rest of Danny's (fake) family seems more forced than natural in the way the script half-heartedly contrives it. As Eddie/Dolph Lundgren, Nick Swardson's (2007's "Blades of Glory") efforts fall more flat than not. Save for a raucously funny moment involving his attempts to save the life of a choking sheep, the movie doesn't know quite what to do with him. Sorry to say, Swardson's role could have been excised and he wouldn't have been missed.
At nearly a full two hours, "Just Go with It" is lengthy, but dodges wearing out its welcome as Danny and Katherine discover their love for one another to the sights of a gorgeous Hawaiian setting and the sounds of a terrific soundtrack full of original mash-ups using recognizable songs from multiple past decades. In this equation, Palmer gets the short end of the stick, though it does turn out to be a surprisingly wise decision to leave out of the script one key scene everyone will be expecting. As it turns out, it is this decision that Danny makes that almost fully redeems his deceptive behavior. "Just Go with It" isn't always without faults—e.g., Danny's relationship with Palmer is especially undernourished; some of the side characters aren't exactly as sidesplitting as director Dennis Dugan thinks they are, and what is up with the pitiful Pizza Hut and Pepsi product placement?—but as a romantic comedy that works as both rom and com, it's a pleasant entertainment with, finally, a nice heart.