There is a sweet story in “50 First Dates” about a man who falls in love with a woman with no short-term memory, meaning he must re-convince her every day that she is in love with him. In the right hands, this could be a truly unusual romantic film.
But of course it is not in the right hands; it is in the infantile, hairy-palmed hands of Adam Sandler and his usual lowbrow team of producers and hangers-on. I will forever have warm feelings for the director, Peter Segal, for giving us “Tommy Boy” (1995), but he’s out of his element when anything substantive is required. (His other credits include “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” and “Anger Management.”)
So the sweet story in “50 First Dates” (written by first-timer George Wing) is marred by depressingly broad humor, crass jokes and genital references. What could have been a perfectly good gross-out comedy is ruined by a genuinely lovely story, and vice versa.
It’s set in Hawaii, though, so that’s nice. Adam Sandler plays veterinarian Henry Roth, who somehow has managed to become quite the ladies’ man despite looking and acting like Adam Sandler. But he fears commitment and therefore refuses to become involved with anyone other than tourists and vacationers.
Then he meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore). Lucy was in an accident a year ago that destroyed her ability to create new memories, exactly like the guy in “Memento” (2001). As a result, she thinks every day is the last day she remembers, and so she keeps re-living it. Her fisherman father (Blake Clark) and steroid-enhanced brother (Sean Astin) enable her (against, I’m sure, the advice of any trained medical professional), going to great lengths to convince her, every single day, that it’s Oct. 13 again, making and eating the same birthday cake for Dad and then watching the same videotape of the same movie.
Seizing the opportunity to basically re-do each day until he gets it right — exactly like the guy in “Groundhog Day” — Henry arranges to “meet” Lucy every day, hoping to engage her in conversation and get her to fall in love with him enough to remember him after she wakes up the next morning. Sometimes his idiot friend Rob Schneider (playing a character who might as well be named Rob Schneider) helps out.
Is it a compliment to say that Drew Barrymore is, as an actress and as a person, flighty and scatterbrained enough to make this character work? It doesn’t matter; she is, and she does. She needs a better male lead, though, someone charming and likable, not grotesque and puffy.
Barrymore and Sandler have appeared together before, of course, in “The Wedding Singer” (1998). That film ought to have been instructive, as it was the one time Sandler has successfully played a romantic AND comedic lead. I don’t know if Seagal and Wing watched it or not, but if they did, they didn’t learn anything from it. “50 First Dates” tries to cram Sandler’s typically vulgar modus operandi into a format that is entirely foreign to him. The combination is unpleasant.
C- (1 hr., 33 min.; )