50 First Dates (2004) — Love with a reset switch

“Sharks! They only bite when you touch their private parts!”

Justin’s rating: It’s Sandlerlicious!

Justin’s review: I was on an outing with some teens when this new Adam Sandler movie came up in conversation, and I remarked, “Huh, guess Sandler and Barrymore are trying to be the new Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.”

Blank stares all around.

“Tom Hanks… Meg Ryan… they were in three romantic comedies together…?”

Huh?

“You know, You’ve Got Mail… Sleepless In… you know what? Just forget it. The Rock wasn’t in any of those movies.” How I weep for the future.

Back in 1998, Sandler and Barrymore made a great romantic comedy team for the Valentine’s Day flick The Wedding Singer. Sandler’s appeal to young men (and weird older men) and Barrymore’s incredible cwuteness roped audiences in, not to mention the other “twist” — setting the movie in the middle of the ’80s. And now they’re back, on a Valentine’s Day weekend, and they’ve got a new twist to all the traditional sappiness.

50 First Dates is essentially Groundhog Day in reverse. Instead of a guy who changes and Learns His Lesson while day after day remains the same, here we have a girl whose brain stays stuck in time even though the days progress.

Shot against a lavish Hawaiian backdrop — the kind that makes you shove a harpoon down your throat because you don’t live there and instead live somewhere where the forecast calls for freezing slush on a regular basis — this movie is set up for some serious, soul-searching romance. Fortunately, we have neurotic screamboy Henry (Sandler),  who’s got a bit of a commitment phobia. Hello dramatic irony, as one day he falls for Lucy (Barrymore), a girl who has a short term memory span of 24 hours. Every day he meets her, wins her heart or strikes out, and every day she wakes up without knowing who he is.

While it’s a great setup, there’s a real fine line walked here. 50 First Dates could’ve taken an easier route by hamming up the comedy and turning Lucy into a punch line, or they also could’ve gone so overly depressing due to Lucy’s condition that theater patrons would be forced to buy controlling stock in Kleenex afterward. However, balance is maintained, and Lucy keeps her dignity while Henry gets his laughs. I laughed as much as I sat in that sort of sadly-sweet romantic shock filmmakers like to throw people into (sigh, I wish that was meeee), and if nothing else, I felt satisfied that this twist to the plot gave freshness to this genre.

For die-hard Sandler fans, there’s quite a few doggy treats thrown their way. References to quite a few Sandler “classics” are made (including a golfing scene where some kids golf just like Happy Gilmore) and many Sandler film actors return in various roles, including Rob Schneider. Heck, there’s even a Dan Aykroyd-Tommy Boy reference, and that just made my day!

So 50 First Dates is a great compromise between guys wishing to retain at least a hint of their manhood, and girls wanting to say “Awww…” a lot. Actually — and this is true — the biggest “awww” moment in our theater came when two of the trained walruses kissed each other. Everyone said “awww” in such perfect unison, I felt grumpy that I was the only one left out of that pre-film planning session. Grr.

Kyle’s rating: This is too childish even for me, which is saying something!

Kyle’s review: Maybe it’s that I like my Adam Sandler totally selfish and involved in either sports or flaming bags of poo. Maybe it’s that I don’t think much of Drew Barrymore’s too-hyped “attractiveness” and are therefore immune to her “charms.” Maybe I’m just a bitter old man who has an irrational fear of walruses. Doesn’t matter. 50 First Dates should really be called 50 Ways to Explode You and Your Lover’s Brains with Flaming Bags of Poo. But I realize that wouldn’t fit on most marquees, so whatever.

I think the thing that bothers me most about 50 First Dates is that the premise is ripe for comedic gold-mining, and Sandler and Barrymore (or Adam and Drew, if you please) do have chemistry together (see the much superior The Wedding Singer), but it all gets tossed aside for asinine humor of the sexual sort. To me, so much of the emphasis is on lowbrow toilet humor and stupid sexual stuff that any emotional resonance gets lost. Believe me: I can’t believe I’m saying this, either, but the sexual stuff was just too much and not needed. Whoa, I need to rest after saying. Yikes. Am I getting too old and crotchety?

Nah. I’m just a discerning viewer. And hey: it’s great if you saw this movie and liked it. If you haven’t seen it, though, let me warn you off by saying it’s not a great example of a comedy film. It’s sort of Sandler-on-autopilot, with Barrymore in cute overload and loads of cute animals thrown in, with Rob Schneider disfigured and ugly in a “cute” way and not a “disturbing psychotic” way. Its popularity at the box office notwithstanding, you may want to consider subjecting yourself to this if you haven’t already. You’re happy enough in your life, right? Why waste time watching this when you could be out learning to play tennis or running through a field of flowers somewhere?

I guess I’m most upset because this movie is essentially just treading water, and doesn’t anything new or cool to offer other than its great Hawaiian locale and really stupid humor. You could argue that any Sandler movie is just stupid humor and a big heart displayed on its sleeve (is that metaphoric? I hope so), but I would counter-argue that most other Sandler films have their strengths in various places; a claim I don’t need or want to elaborate on, so thanks. But 50 First Dates is just a limp thing that will probably live on in cable channel holiday movie marathons, so save your rental dollars till the next really great Sandler movie comes along. Happy Gilmore 2, anyone?

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