50 FIRST DATES
**** (out of 5)
February 13, 2004
Adam Sandler as HENRY ROTH
Drew Barrymore as LUCY WHITMORE
Rob Schneider as ULA
Dan Aykroyd as DR. KEATS
Sean Astin as DOUG WHITMORE
Lusia Strus as ALEXA
Directed by: Peter Segal
BY KEVIN CARR
“50 First Dates” answers a question that has been plaguing movie buffs for the last three years… What if Christopher Nolan’s dark and gritty thriller “Memento” was actually a sweet romantic comedy?
Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a zoo veterinarian on Oahu who spends most of his days wooing female tourists and then dumping them before their return trip. One day, he wanders into a diner on the north shore and meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore), who is eating alone. Soon, he gathers up the nerve to talk to her, and they really hit it off.
When Henry returns to the restaurant the next day, he finds that she doesn’t remember him at all. The diner owner lets him in on her background – that Lucy was in a terrible car accident a year before and lost her short term memory. Every night when she goes to sleep, her memory is erased and she thinks it’s the morning of her accident. In spite of this, Henry starts a relationship with her, and in order to do so, he must make her fall in love with him every day.
Hey, at least the film isn’t just a failed Saturday Night Live sketch, which is what it had set itself up to be.
It has been interesting to watch Adam Sandler’s career over the years. Some of his earlier works like “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore” were by no means great films but were at least entertaining for the Adam Sandler fan. It wasn’t until he had some mainstream success with films like “The Wedding Singer” and “Big Daddy” that he came to realize he could be a leading man. I don’t know if anyone else in the world agrees with him on this point, but that’s where Sandler’s been trying to direct his career lately.
Even until last year’s “Anger Management,” Sandler stayed partially true to his obnoxious-college-student roots. This hasn’t always worked for him, considering his near career-killing role in “Little Nicky.” With “50 First Dates,” Sandler is really, really, really trying to be a leading man – and a leading man in a romantic comedy, no less.
Sandler isn’t terrible in the role, but he really isn’t great either. As corny as it is, there’s a lot of heart to “50 First Dates.” But this happens more in spite of Adam Sandler than because of him. The heart comes from Drew Barrymore, really, and some of the supporting cast.
In fact, when Adam Sandler tries his old comedic style from his SNL and stand-up days, the jokes fizzle and fall flat. Some examples of this include a patient in the hospital with only a 10-second memory and an old friend of Lucy’s whose had gender reassignment surgery. In fact, these parts of the film are uncomfortable and out of place in a basic romantic comedy. Thank God there are only a few of them to deal with.
Otherwise, Sandler pretty much blends into the woodwork. Anyone could have played his role. (Well, not anyone, I’m sure. I doubt that Gabe Kaplan from “Welcome Back Kotter” just wouldn’t have been believable.) But the character of Henry Roth was more of an empty blank that could have been filled by any of Hollywood’s young A-listers… yes, even Ashton Kutcher.
Some other notable performances come from Rob Schneider as Henry’s wacky Hawaiian friend Ula and Sean Astin as Lucy’s steroid soaked brother. It’s good to see Astin got himself back in shape after his role of the hefty Hobbit Samwise in “The Lord of the Rings.” Lusia Strus also gives a pretty funny performance as the sexually ambiguous vet tech Alexa.
Probably the hardest part of the plot to swallow is Henry’s womanizing. I don’t know whose idea this was, but it sounded more like Sandler living out some dorm room fantasies. Sandler may be able to get the girls now, but his sex appeal would be severely reduced if he didn’t have the money, movie star status and his tenure on SNL. If Sandler were living paycheck-to-paycheck, making $20,000 a year working behind a taco stand and crashing on his parent’s couch every night, the Drew Barrymores of the world wouldn’t be flocking to his side.
If you like romantic comedies, “50 First Dates” is definitely going to push your buttons. Barrymore brings a touching innocence to the character of Lucy – a role that decidedly isn’t a blank that could be filled by anyone. It’s a great date movie, and appropriately opens to the Valentine’s Day weekend. It’s one of the better films Sandler’s done since his last on-screen pairing with Barrymore in “The Wedding Singer.” But I still wouldn’t hurry to cast him as the big romantic lead in anything if I were a movie executive.