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NOW PLAYING: 50 First Dates

Posted: Monday, February 16, 2004

About fifteen or twenty minutes into Adam Sandler's Valentine's Day offering, 50 First Dates, probably just after the prolonged walrus vomit scene, I watched a woman walk out and offered a silent entreaty, "Please, take me with you." Luckily, about half-way through, the movie finally grows up and gave me a reason to stay.

Adam Sandler movies have been more miss than hit lately, but I don't think that it's because one is necessarily any better than another. It's just that audiences are tired of the routine. You know, Sandler's one basic routine where he alternates between unbridled rage and elementary school enthusiasm, all the while singing an endless string of nonsensical songs that all sound alike, but do have a few, clever joke rhymes. That's basically it for him, and people used to eat it up, but we need some variation, we need to grow up. The fans that loved him ten years ago have actual jobs now (most of them, anyway), families, car payments, and believe it or not, their humor has matured as well. So, where Billy Madison seemed brilliantly bizarre comic romp, and Happy Gilmore was a laugh riot, Mr. Deeds was just tired and embarrassing. And what about 8 Crazy Nights? That's a good question, and one that I can not answer because I, along with the rest of over-twelve America skipped that one. That said, Sandler is showing signs of maturity. Last year's Punch Drunk Love, while detested by some and loved by others, did at least show that the man can act, and in Anger Management, a huge hit, Sandler played it straight for once, and got more laughs than ever.

50 First Dates is kind of a hybrid film. Not entirely willing to give up his inner child, the first half contains idiotic plot devices, terrible dialogue, and the aforementioned walrus puking bit. The story goes thusly. Sandler is Henry Roth, a veterinarian and commitment-phoebe living and working in Hawaii. Henry basically divides his time between his animal patients, his idiot friend Ula (played by perpetual idiot Rob Schneider), and the myriad tourist women he lies to in order to get them to sleep with him. But Henry has big dreams. One day soon, he's going to sail his little schooner all the way to Alaska to study walruses in the wild. That was the plan, that is, until he meets Lucy Whitmore, played by the ever charming Drew Barrymore. Unfortunately for Henry, Lucy has a little problem. She has short-term memory loss (this bit is sooooo played by now) and has to start fresh every morning. In one of the lamest plot devices ever constructed, the movie would have us believe that Lucy's father, who was driving the car on the day of the crash that wiped out Lucy's memory, has spent the year since the accident play-acting an intricate plot to convice Lucy that each day is that last day she can remember, his birthday, in fact. Each day he and Lucy's brother lead her to believe that no time has passed. She reads one of a stockpile of newspapers from that day that he has gathered. She eats breakfast at the same restaurant, where the staff is aware of her situation. She then goes home and spends the "birthday" with Dad where the eat cake and watch the Sixth Sense until it's time for bed. Everyday. Yeah, right.

However, about half-way through, after Lucy becomes aware of her situation and starts to deal with it, the movie seems to find it's stride. Jokes, though less numerous, are funnier. Sandler quits with the same old routine and just plays the character. Though I doubt I would go again, the second half of the film had some real moments of tenderness, humor, and joy. Drew Barrymore, who I generally like no matter what movie she's in, has some nice moments of despair, tempered by her character's natural bouyancy. Schneider, however, starts stupid and just remains that way through the whole film, though what else can you expect.

50 First Dates is far from being the best thing Sandler's ever done. It was disorganized, grating at times, and simple-minded in it's estimation of the audience. It is, as well, however, smart, funny and sweet, at least at the end. I'm glad I went to see it, though I doubt I'd go again. Life's too short, and I'm going to think carefully the next fime Adam Sandler asks me out for a date. Grade: C

Fifty First Dates is rated PG-13 for some mild language.



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