50 First Dates

(2004) ** Pg-13
99 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Peter Segal. Cast: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Lusia Strus.

I'll admit it up front: 50 First Dates, like all Adam Sandler movies, is essentially critic-proof. What can I say? Sandler fans will love this carefully constructed Sander-formula flick (including a Sandler song performed on ukelele and classic Sandler co-stars Drew Barrymore and Rob Schneider). Those who generally don't find Sandler funny (with the possible exception of the aberrant Punch-Drunk Love) will find little to convince them otherwise here.

Sandler plays Henry Roth, a scamming womanizer/Dr. Doolittle who's whiling away the years working at the (real) Sea Life Park in Hawaii and scrupulously avoiding falling for a local girl. Then he meets Barrymore's Lucy Whitmore, a life spirit with an unfortunate problem: since a head-banging car accident, her fried short-term memory causes her perpetually to "relive" the same day. Her father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin) enable her to live the lie by laboriously supplying her with costume and props, like a pre-printed stack of newspapers, to support the illusion.

The smitten Henry won't take no for an answer, so he must make Lucy fall in love with him every day. Sandler and Barrymore, who co-starred in Sandler's hit The Wedding Singer share an easy rapport proven in their cute first first date. The "high-concept" premise is quite preposterous, but scripter George Wing gets points for novelty and, after solidifying the relationship, mustering the kind of genuine crisis most modern romantic comedies lack. Unfortunately, the premise is as perverse as it is sweet, beginning with three men lying to one woman and ending with an ongoing promise of daily trauma for Lucy.

Sandler's stock-in-trade, again channeled here by director Peter Segal (Anger Management) is comedy of cruelty, with punching bag supporting characters like Henry's bisexual German colleague and Astin's lisping steroid addict (Astin and Scarlet "The Perfect Score" Johansson should fire their agents over these poorly timed Oscar killers). Mental health professionals will take particular umbrage with the cheap jokes levied against a character called "Ten-Second Tom," though perhaps they can take refuge in all the jokes about Sandler's egg-shaped head, including one slung by Dan Aykroyd, the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. As usual, most of the best jokes (like the sight of Barrymore, armed with an aluminum bat, going to town on the tiresome Schneider) have been ruined by the ubiquitous trailers, but the gag about The Sixth Sense had the row of film critics chuckling.

Sandler and Barrymore's bid to be the next-generation Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan should rake in plenty of Valentine's Day dollars, since it's almost as sensitive as it is stupid, without sacrificing the essential jokes about turtles smoking weed, penis size, walrus vomit, and the like. The credits provide more proof of Sandler's regular-guy persona: he dedicates the film--in a heartfelt postscript--to his recently late father Stanley and the "Red Sox winning joke" to a clutch of buddies.

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