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A review of 50 First Dates

click to enlarge Barrymore and Sandler on one of their first dates.
  • Barrymore and Sandler on one of their first dates.

50 First Dates (PG-13)
Columbia Pictures

As much as I enjoyed this romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, I want to scold the director, the screenwriter and Sandler (one of the producers) for succumbing to marketing ploys and gross-out jokes designed strictly to attract Sandler's core audience. So here goes:

Shame on you for stooping to sexist humor that insults heavy women, that lingers on penis size (not a human penis, but a walrus', no less), and that indulges in tasteless gay jokes. Shame on you for introducing a sexually ambiguous character with no purpose except as a vehicle for tasteless gay jokes. Shame on you for giving an otherwise adorable character, a steroid-pumping body builder, a lisp and a problem with wet dreams. And shame on you for that gratuitous projectile vomiting scene. Uggh.

None of these gags serves any purpose except to flatten the otherwise considerable emotional impact of 50 First Dates, and yes, to assure that 14-year-old boys will fork over their money to see Sandler and his cast of permanently adolescent cohorts once again.

Aside for these slaps on the hand, however, Sandler is to be congratulated for his best role since his crazed, beleaguered lover in Punch Drunk Love opposite Emily Watson. In that film and in this one, Sandler's leading ladies bring out the best in him, quieting his ego, rounding out his angles and infusing him with palpable affection.

The premise of 50 First Dates is utterly implausible and completely captivating. Henry Roth (Sandler), a veterinarian at Sea Life Park on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, meets Lucy Whitmore (Barrymore) at a local diner, the Hukilau, unaware that she suffers from a brain trauma that causes her short-term memory to erase each night as she sleeps. With the assistance of her father (Blake Clark) and her brother Doug (Sean Astin), Lucy's memory stops the day before the fateful car accident that left her brain-injured. Every day she has breakfast at the Hukilau, then goes home to celebrate Dad's birthday, a ritual that involves a fresh pineapple, painting his workshop, a basketball game and the movie The Sixth Sense.

But Henry, who captures Lucy's attention at least once every day after initially falling for her, decides that the best thing for Lucy is to face her memory loss. Dad and Doug reluctantly agree and eventually come to realize that Henry really cares for Lucy and that with his help, she might actually regain a semblance of a normal life.

Clark, Astin and Sandler are all endearing in their protectiveness and love for Lucy. But it's Barrymore who holds the film together, responding over and over with the same lines ("There's nothing like a first kiss!") and making them fresh with each delivery. Barrymore's sunniness, her buttery skin, clear eyes, sly smile and warm body language are captivating. In 50 First Dates, she puts everything into a character who could have come off as a mere caricature.

There is a complete dissonance between the film's first 15 or so minutes and its closing scenes. It's hard to believe that a flick that starts off intentionally offending its audience with tales of Henry's sexual prowess, off-color jokes and animal high jinks, turns out to be a lump-in-the-throat romance that utterly woos its audience.

So shame on Sandler, director Peter Segal and screenwriter George Wing for not trusting their audience more. Minus the crudity, 50 First Dates would have been an even better romantic comedy, fit for adolescents and adults alike.

-- Kathryn Eastburn

Tinseltown, Cinemark 16

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