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"50 FIRST DATES"
(2004) (Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: An aquatic veterinarian repeatedly tries to convince an art teacher, who suffers from short-term memory loss, that they're seeing each other.
PLOT:
Henry Roth (ADAM SANDLER) is a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy who works as a veterinarian at Hawaii's Sea Life Park. When not tending to the animals with the aid of the gender nebulous Alexa (LUSIA STRUS) or hanging out with his wild friend Ula (ROB SCHNEIDER), Henry dates many women, but doesn't want to settle down since he dreams of heading to the artic to study walruses.

That changes one day when he happens upon a diner run by waitress Sue (AMY HILL) and short order cook Nick (NEPHI POMAIKAI BROWN). There, he spots the lovely Lucy Whitmore (DREW BARRYMORE) who's building structures out of her breakfast waffles. The two immediately hit it off, but the next day she doesn't seem to recognize him. Sue then informs Henry that Lucy suffered a brain injury about a year ago that left her long term memories intact, but has made her unable to retain any short-term ones. With her physician, Dr. Keats (DAN AYKROYD), unable to help her, every day is October 13th to Lucy, no matter what she did the day before.

As a result and despite the redundancy for them, her father, Marlin (BLAKE CLARK), and steroid-using brother Doug (SEAN ASTIN) go to extreme measures to make sure she experiences every day as if it's that date. They do so to protect her and thus become worried that Henry's obvious attraction to her might upset their delicate temporal balancing act. Nevertheless, Henry falls for Lucy more each day, despite her not recognizing him 24 hours later. From that point on, he tries to find ways to remind her of him and their previous time and experiences together.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Considering that so many people suffer from one form or another of acute or chronic memory loss, it isn't surprising that the subject is getting more play in the entertainment field. Of course, since the more debilitating form of the condition is rather serious - not to mention depressing - it's usually relegated to TV movies of the week.

The suspenseful or comedic versions, however, are apparently fine for the big screen, resulting in the likes of "Memento" and now "50 First Dates." While this film is being noted as yet another entry in a recent and upcoming series of thematically similar films (dealing with such memory loss), it's more obvious that it draws its inspiration from another picture.

And that would be "Groundhog Day," the terrific and original comedy where Bill Murray found himself stuck in and repeating the titular day. Part of the fun and entertaining twist of that effort was that Murray's character fell for the one played by Andie MacDowell.

Yet, since the slate was wiped clean every night, he had to start anew in his courtship attempts the "following" day. The enjoyable part was in the various ways he tried to do that and the ensuing results thereof. Of course, in true Dickens form, he learned something about himself in the process and thus grew as a person.

First-time writer George Wing and comedy director Peter Segal ("Anger Management," "Tommy Boy") have tried to refashion and recreate that magical and successful formula in this messy and ultimately lame, hodgepodge of an effort.

Rather than a sardonic weatherman falling for his producer, we have a veterinarian (Adam Sandler) being smitten with an art teacher (Drew Barrymore). That's all fine and dandy, but instead of the clever twist on a Twilight Zone type premise, the filmmakers have settled for a far less imaginative ploy. You see, the woman suffers from short-term memory loss resulting from a previous head injury. Hey, now that's some funny stuff.

Directly related and in more ways than one, the filmmakers also seem to be attempting to channel the irreverent and crude comedy stylings of the Farrelly Brothers. Aside from her and other brain injured characters, there's material about illiteracy, projectile vomiting, open shark wounds, walrus genitalia, steroid use, a gender nebulous character and, of course, nocturnal emissions.

Mixed in with the standard elements from a typical Sandler film - including but not limited to his normal antics (in somewhat gentler mode), old men cursing and the obligatory and overstayed appearance of Rob Schneider - and this would seem to be many a male adolescent's dream film.

Yet, it ultimately fails at everything it tries to do and be. The "Groundhog Day" antics of watching Henry trying to win over Lucy day after day eventually makes one feel as if they're stuck watching the same redundant and repetitive material over and over again.

Accordingly, I can understand why the filmmakers felt the need to insert additional material. Yet, all of it feels so incongruous with the main plot that it feels like you're channel surfing through various entertainment offerings rather than watching a cohesive whole.

The one thing that's not difficult to note is that the filmmakers are attempting to recapture the magic and chemistry that the leads successfully exuded in "The Wedding Singer." Beyond the re-teaming of the two stars, there's Sandler doing the more subdued and, dare I say, somewhat normal characterization (at least compared to his other acting roles) as well as a bevy of cover songs of popular hits from the '80s. It becomes so prevalent that I kept expecting Billy Idol to make another extended cameo, but alas, that's not the case.

One of the bigger problems - among many - is that it's hard to believe Henry's sudden and all-out attraction to Lucy (notwithstanding her cute good looks). The opening of the film presents him as a love 'em and leave 'em kind of guy who can't be pinned down. Thus, there's no reason for us to buy into the notion that he's suddenly head over heels smitten with her. A couple of script changes (such as jettisoning that initial characterization) could have remedied much of that.

Sandler ("Anger Management," "Mr. Deeds") and Barrymore ("Duplex," the "Charlie's Angels" films) once again have decent chemistry between them, but the script does them no favors in making us root for their romantic success. It certainly doesn't help that the plot design prevents her character from ever growing (since she's resent back to "zero" each day).

Rob Schneider ("The Hot Chick," "The Animal) gets a far meatier part than his usual "You can do it!" cameo, but unless you're a big fan of his normal antics, his extended appearance does little for the film. Nor do running gags featuring Sean Astin ("Deterrence," the "Lord of the Rings" films) as a lisping, bodybuilder wannabe who has wet dreams (thankfully not seen) from steroid use, or Lusia Strus ("Soul Survivors," "Stir of Echoes) playing a creepy, androgynous character along the lines of Julia Sweeney's "It's Pat" role. Meanwhile, Dan Aykroyd ("Pearl Harbor," the "Ghostbusters" films) makes a few appearances as a medical doctor, but even he can't save this stitched together production.

Despite a fourth quarter attempt to get all touchy-feely as far as the romance goes, the film routinely fails to connect with the viewer from either a character or straight comedy aspect. Aside from a few briefly amusing moments, the film simply doesn't work. "50 First Dates" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 10, 2004 / Posted February 13 , 2004


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