50 First Dates
directed by Peter Segal
(Columbia, 2004)

Slapstick funnyman or surprisingly sensitive leading man: Adam Sandler can do both. It seems to work better, though, when he doesn't try as strenuously to combine the two as he does in 50 First Dates.

That's not to say First Dates is without its charms. Sandler, as confirmed bachelor Henry Roth, plays his scenes with Drew Barrymore with a loopy grace. And Barrymore herself, as a young woman who has no short-term memory, has picked a role that plays to her strengths.

What I could have done without was about half of the innuendo jokes spouted by Rob Schneider as Ula, a native Hawaiian -- without them, Ula would have been just as funny, but screenwriter George Wing felt the need to go for the raucous more often than he had to.

It's as if Sandler's dropped into a cross between Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love and his lead role in Mr. Deeds with more than a bit of Little Nicky thrown in for good measure.

When 50 First Dates floats along, it's on the good graces of Sandler and Barrymore as a couple who have more than their share of "getting-to-know-you" blues. Lucy (Barrymore) was in an auto accident a year ago that's erased her short-term memory -- everything before the accident is fine, but each morning, when she awakes, she's starting with a blank slate from that point on.

Henry meets Lucy at a restaurant, they flirt, they part with the agreement to meet the next day ... and when they do, she has no idea who this guy is. Essentially, Henry will have to win Lucy's heart again ... and again ... and again. He'll also have to win over Lucy's dad and brother, who have spent the past year overprotecting her.

Nope, it's not deep. But Sandler and Barrymore know what they do best, and they make the most of it here. Barrymore's sunniness makes her a believable target for Henry's heart, and her ability to turn from ferocious to giggly within the same breath is used to great comedic effect.

Sean Astin makes a goofy brother for Lucy, a young man whose devotion to steroids is matched only by his fascination with his own steroid- and "herbal remedy"-enhanced glutes.

And character actor Blake Clark, who's been with Sandler before in Eight Crazy Nights, Mr. Deeds, Little Nicky and Waterboy, does himself gruffly proud as Lucy's dad.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 13 November 2004

Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore cashed in on their charming chemistry from The Wedding Singer and did themselves one better with 50 First Dates.

Dates is a "meet cute" movie set in Hawaii, where veterinarian Henry Roth (Sandler) is a notorious (and slightly unbelievable) lothario until he is smitten by the waffle-sculpting talents of Lucy Whitmore (Barrymore), whom he meets in a diner. Their first good day together leads to plans for another -- but when he arrives the next morning for their breakfast date, he is met icily by a woman who has no memory of their previous encounter and is irked by his overly familiar greeting.

Lucy suffers from brain damage sustained in a car accident the previous year. With her short-term memory functions destroyed, she wakes each morning thinking it's the same day, and she follows the same routine (with variations) that she'd had planned. That includes breakfast at the diner and a pineapple-picking birthday date with her doting dad (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin), who lovingly reconstruct the day for her to the smallest detail.

Warned away from a girl who can't have a normal relationship, Henry finds himself instead drawn irresistably to her again and again. Much of the movie is spent as he tries to "meet" her for the first time every single day and make her fall in love with him again. (Why he doesn't stick with the tactics that work, rather than inventing more and more elaborate schemes each day, is a mystery.) Then, Henry hits on a plan to introduce Lucy each day to her condition, help her get over the immediate shock and go on living....

The concept is clever, although Lucy's ailment is a fictitious one. Once again, it's the Sandler-Barrymore chemistry that really sells this film. This is not the laugh-a-minute or gross-out comedy some folks might expect -- for the most part, it retains a sweeter tone throughout, although the humor follows predictable channels where the walrus is concerned. Certain characters (Rob Schneider as Ula, a perpetually stoned Hawaiian, and Lusia Strus as Alexa, Henry's sexually ambiguous and frustrated assistant) interrupt the flow, and at least a few of their scenes could have hit the cutting-room floor without much loss.

Overall, Dates is sunny, light-hearted and romantically touching. Let's hope Sandler and Barrymore go this route again.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 12 February 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.