Just Go With It may sound like a random phrase slapped onto the latest Adam Sandler comedy, but the title does serve a purpose in the story -- while helping to explain where it goes horribly amiss.
It refers to the spirit of group improvisation: When one person offers an outrageous premise, the others are forced to accept it and incorporate it into their own ad-libs, until the riffs snowball into madcap silliness. And while the word "loose" is often used to describe improv -- for Sandler, less flattering synonyms like "haphazard" or "ramshackle" also apply -- Just Go With It is actually a farce, requiring the sort of discipline and timing that is uniquely ill-suited to Sandler's brand of half-hearted quipping.
Though the details of the plot have changed as radically as in a game of "telephone," the roots of Just Go With It lie in Abe Burrows' 1965 Broadway hit Cactus Flower -- itself taken from a French play -- which was later adapted for the screen by I.A.L. Diamond, who knew a thing or nine about comedy. Diamond began a decades-long collaboration with Billy Wilder on 1957's Love In the Afternoon, and with classic comedies like Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, the two wrote films that were frenetic on the surface, but constructed with the ruthlessness and intricacy of a great machine. They were engineers first, gag writers a distant second.
While it's unfair to expect anyone to meet the Diamond-Wilder standard, a little respect for it might be appropriate. But Sandler's house director Dennis Dugan — now with six Sandler duds to his credit, from Happy Gilmore to Grown Ups — and his screenwriters, Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling, seem to be making things up as they go along. That's a fine strategy for characters in a farce, but it's disastrous for the artisans who are supposed to be leading them along. The film writes itself into a corner early and just loiters there, looking vaguely embarrassed.
Sandler plays Danny, a wealthy plastic surgeon who uses his wedding ring to bed barflies. (Lest we think him a total pig, the film supplies a grotesque prologue about him discovering his wife-to-be's infidelity on their wedding day.)
He doesn't need the ring to pick up the woman of his dreams, a luscious young schoolteacher named Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), but when she discovers it anyway — and reacts unenthusiastically -- he scrambles for an explanation. Enlisting his trusty office manager Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as his wife, Danny stages a dinner to make it clear to Palmer that the "couple" is getting a divorce. Things go pretty well until a cell-phone call reveals that Katherine, a real divorcee, has two children -- which means Danny is now a fake father. And that Katherine's real kids must be enlisted, post-haste, to be his fake kids.
(That smacking sound you hear is the screenwriters hitting that corner. Once the kids enter the picture, the long-term sustainability of Danny's lies becomes impossible. There's talk of having the kids willing to play their roles for the next 50 years or so, the lies have to end there: Fake kids may get you laid, but they can't get you married, especially when one has resolved to adopt a Cockney accent.)
The whole of Just Go With It is premised on Palmer's being the dumbest, most gullible creature on two shapely legs, forcing Decker, a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, to play every scene with an uncomprehending smile and a few nods of the head. She has to believe that Danny and Katherine are an old married couple -- the most plausible lie by far -- but she also has to believe that Katherine's made-up boyfriend (Nick Swardson) is a pipe-smoking German named Dolph Lundgren; that Katherine and her bitterest rival (an unfortunate Nicole Kidman) both go by "Devlin"; and that their eldest daughter picked up that ridiculous, wavering accent by attending boarding school in England. And that's just for starters.
The shame of it is, all this ridiculousness might have worked under surer hands. After all, farces are supposed to be a little silly, and the audience, for lack of a better phrase, can be trained to just go with it. The trick? Don't treat us like a bunch of Palmers.