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With: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Dan Aykroyd, Lynn Collins
Written by: George Wing
Directed by: Peter Segal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual humor and drug references
Running Time: 99
Date: 02/13/2004
IMDB

50 First Dates (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Altered 'Dates'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As usual, the coming attractions trailer for 50 First Dates gives away all the funny stuff, but what the trailer doesn't show is how genuinely delightful this movie really is.

It's almost as if opposing forces came together to hammer it out: the forces of good taste vs. bad taste. On the one hand, we have director Peter Segal (Anger Management, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) and actor Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo), neither of whom would know a good movie if it bit them.

Add to this the screenplay by George Wing, which throws in the now-required Farrelly brothers-type gross-out gags. Gee, I wonder what's going to happen when one character sticks her head up close to a sick walrus' face?

On the other hand, we have Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore teaming up for the first time since the unexpectedly charming The Wedding Singer in 1998. The charismatic and unguarded Barrymore should be the rightful owner of the label "America's Sweetheart," while Sandler manages to draw on some of the sweetness Paul Thomas Anderson discovered in him with the superb Punch-Drunk Love.

Sandler plays Henry Roth, an aquatic marine life veterinarian living in Hawaii. The commitment-phobic Henry only dates beautiful tourists for a week at a time before dumping them. This would be easier to buy if Henry were played by, say, George Clooney.

But he soon meets Lucy (Barrymore), an adorable art teacher with short-term memory loss. They hit it off, but Lucy can't remember Henry the next day. Lucy's father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin) try not to aggravate her and simply spend every day pretending that it's the day of the auto accident that caused her condition, going so far as to lay out the same copy of the Sunday paper over and over again.

So Henry must re-introduce himself every day and convince her that they're dating. (The film originally had the much better title 50 First Kisses, but someone at Columbia Pictures chickened out.)

50 First Dates bogs down when Segal and Wing try to emulate the Farrellys, with Schneider's character Ulu, a native Hawaiian with two different colored eyes and a wardrobe problem, Lucy's brother who lisps because of excess steroid use, Henry's androgynous co-worker Alexa (Lusia Strus) with a comic accent, and "10 Second Tom" (Allen Covert), whose memory only lasts -- you got it -- 10 seconds.

The high-concept, low-maintenance plot of short-term memory loss, was also used to drive such recent films as Wintersleepers, Memento and Finding Nemo. But the film mostly resembles the great 1993 film Groundhog Day, which found horror and humor in simple repetition.

50 First Dates may not be nearly as airtight as Groundhog Day, but it finds interesting ways to explore its set-up. When not obsessed with hitting the giggly teenage boy demographic, 50 First Dates concentrates on a situation that requires Sandler to act grown up and responsible.

Though most romantic comedies -- as well as TV sitcoms -- depend on lying for their comedy, Henry soon learns that truth is the best tactic to take with Lucy. He even gets to sing one of his silly falsetto ballads professing his everlasting love. Moreover, the film manages a worthy ending instead of the expected cop-out.

This is Sandler's baby, but Barrymore rises to the task of the emotional roller coaster her Lucy must be going through, proving how unfair her current Razzie nomination (for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) really is.

In the end, the Sandler fans who rally around Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison will probably be disappointed, but those who bask in the lighter side of The Wedding Singer and Punch-Drunk Love will find a minor treasure.

(This review also appeared in The San Francisco Examiner.)

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