Sandler mostly leaves gross for engrossing

Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2004

Adam Sandler's new movie ''50 First Dates'' is a romantic comedy that has a goofy take on the question of predestination: If you start out from the same place, under the same circumstances, in the same state of mind, will your day end the same way?

The movie also has a gigantic walrus that sprays monstrous amounts of vomit on people.

That should illustrate the two forces at work in this picture.

Sandler, who often mocks his egg-shaped head, actually has some interesting and funny ideas rattling around inside that noggin, but he also has a tendency to surrender to juvenile jokes like a sleep-deprived, sugar-infused 12-year-old.

Luckily, someone seems to have given him a nap and a carrot stick. There isn't too much gross-out in ''50 First Dates'' just a little, to satisfy the baser tastes in his fan base.

Sandler and company find a lot more honest and hard-won laughs in their premise: Drew Barrymore plays Lucy Whitmore, an accident victim who, when she goes to sleep, forgets everything that happens to her the previous day.

Her long-term memory is intact she remembers her gruff dad (Blake Clark) and steroid-taking brother (the formerly plump Sean Astin of ''The Lord of the Rings'') and other details from her life in Hawaii. But every day is a Sunday, her dad's birthday, and she freaks out when she realizes that more than a year has passed since then.

Of course, she's OK the next day when she awakes, thinking it's Sunday, her dad's birthday ... Then it all starts again.

The truth is overwhelming for her, so dad and brother go along with her delusion putting the same outdated newspaper on the kitchen table, eating the same kind of birthday cake for dinner and watching ''The Sixth Sense'' again and again and again each night bored stupid, while she is always amazed by the twist ending.

Then she meets Henry Roth, played by Sandler, who's a veterinarian at a marine park and a notorious womanizer. He desperately wants her to remember him, and interferes with dad and brother's scheme, asking the salient question: How long can they keep this up?

''What happens when she wakes up one day and realizes she just aged 10 years overnight,'' he asks them. They don't have an answer.

The jokes come out of the different ways he has to win her over each day. The first time, he used a toothpick to make a door for a little waffle-house she made while playing with her breakfast. It charms her, and they hit it off.

The second time he tries it, she's unimpressed. ''I'm sorry, are you from a country where it's OK to put your fingers all over someone else's food?'' she snarls.

What changed? Nobody knows. But sometimes he wins her over, sometimes he annoys her, and sometimes like when she wakes up in bed next to this stranger he gets pulverized with a lacrosse racket by her.

The movie takes it's made-up memory ailment seriously and isn't afraid to take a few downbeat risks for the sake of originality.

There really seems to be no hope for Barrymore's condition, so instead of being a story about how Sandler cures her through love, ''50 First Dates'' is really about how one man learns to love someone even though she can never really love him back. After all, she has always just met him.

That's kind of sad, but these two likable stars who previously appeared together in 1998's ''The Wedding Singer'' make it very funny, too.

''50 First Dates,'' a Columbia Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor and drug references. Running time: 91 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 No one under 17 admitted.

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