Funny, sweet and only mildly offensive, 50 First Dates proves a lot of things: that Adam Sandler can be funny, that Drew Barrymore is about as adorable as humanly possible, that it's hard to go wrong when surrounding yourself with performing sea lions and that the romantic comedy is one genre that'll never go out of style.
It also suggests that Sandler may be - dare we say it? - growing, as both an actor and a comedian. The movie uses his deadpan delivery to its advantage, and it lets him act like a real person, leaving the stupid schtick largely to sidekick Rob Schneider, who's as irritating as ever (playing filmdom's least convincing Hawaiian native).
Even better, instead of relying on gross-outs and making fun of the physically or mentally impaired, the film finds humor in the relationships it depicts; instead of mocking its supporting characters (a Sandler specialty to this point), 50 First Dates lets them retain their dignity and be funny (most of the time - the film isn't perfect).
Sandler is Henry Roth, a marine-park veterinarian in Hawaii who, when he isn't palling around with his animals (who nearly steal the show), is living a series of one-night stands, determined never to develop anything resembling a relationship.
But then, while having breakfast at a beachfront eatery, he spies the lovely Lucy (Barrymore) and is smitten. What's more, his lines (involving waffles and toothpick) work their magic just right. The two hit it off and arrange to meet for breakfast again the next day.
The next day, however, Lucy is hostile. She acts like they've never met. Which is pretty much true. Ever since an automobile accident a year earlier, she's been without short-term memory. Every morning when she wakes up, she's forgotten everything from the day before; it's always the morning of the accident. The condition, her doctors say, is irreversible.
Thus is Henry confronted with a challenge. He loves Lucy, and some days he's able to make her feel the same. But does he want to spend the rest of his life trying to make the same girl fall in love with him every day?
Of course he does (Barrymore's Lucy makes it easy to understand why). But can he? And should he?
50 First Dates has tremendous heart, and it's evinced in any number of ways. There's Lucy's gruff dad (Blake Clark, who provides the film a real anchor) and steroid-obsessed brother (Sean Astin, funny if a bit tiring) taking pains to protect her, playing along with her defective memory so she won't realize her life is in permanent repeat mode. They've printed up stacks of newspapers, all with the date of the accident on it; they whitewash the dad's room every night, so she can paint it again the next day; and they continually are amazed at the shock ending to The Sixth Sense, which they are forced to watch every night.
50 First Dates, sadly, can't resist the urge to go downscale every once in a while - usually when Schneider's character is on-screen, but not exclusively. There's also Lusia Strus as Henry's butch assistant, who's the butt of almost every nasty joke in the movie. And a joke involving Walrus vomit ... did we really have to go there?
But smartly, director Peter Segal (Nutty Professor II) and first-time screenwriter George Wing are making a funny movie with heart, not an Adam Sandler movie that panders to his supposed audience. Walk in expecting the return of Little Nicky, and you'll be in for one of the year's most pleasant surprises.
What the film has in spades is a charming chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore, who make Henry and Lucy not only believable, but irresistible. The movie has moments of honest emotion, guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye, and honest humor - the encounter involving Barrymore's and Schneider's characters and a baseball bat is a soon-to-be classic - just as guaranteed to bring a laugh (and not one you'll be embarrassed about later).
50 First Dates
Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore
Directed by Peter Segal
Rated PG-13 (crude sexual humor, drug references)
Released by Columbia Pictures
Time 96 minutes