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50 First Dates

50 First Dates rolls unapologetically off the Adam Sandler assembly line — another farce high on silliness, sentiment, dick jokes, vomit (a walrus blows lunch) and a crazylove for grossouts that is too sincere to be faked. Say what you will about him — and to most critics Sandler is the anti-Christ of comedy — he’s a thirty-seven-year-old man who won’t let the idiot boy die inside of him. There’s a nutjob integrity in that. Paul Thomas Anderson took him into deeper, dangerous waters in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), but Sandler quickly swam back to the safe shore of formula in Anger Management. He’s a bit more adventurous in 50 First Dates, directed by Anger‘s Peter Segal, which shows savvy in stealing from 1993’s Groundhog Day in which the great Bill Murray played a smartass weatherman forced to relive the same day again and again until he made Andie MacDowell fall in love with him. In 50 First Dates, scripted by newcomer George Wing, Sandler plays Henry Roth, a vet at a Oahu aquarium, who has to pull off the same love trick with art teacher Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore). An auto accident has left Lucy with a short-term memory. She can remember everything that happened before her accident, including her fisherman dad (Blake Clark) and her lisping, steroid junkie brother (Sean Astin, breaking from his Lord of the Rings role with a vengeance),but anyone she meets now vanishes from her memory the next morning. Shades of Memento. That’s when Henry, whose love life is basically one-night stands with tourists, decides Lucy is the woman for him even if he must persuade her to fall in love with him again every day. She’s the ultimate one-night stand. The movie looks Hawaiian lush thanks to Clint Eastwood’s long time director of photography Jack Green (Unforgiven, A Perfect World), but it’s also uneven, shapeless and crushingly repetitive. For the surprising romantic sweetnesss that seeps through, credit the teamwork of the two stars who haven’t lost the loopy magic they displayed in 1998’s The Wedding Singer. It’s a kick to see the adorably sexy Barrymore back in relaxed form again after the Duplex debacle and that calamitous Charlie’s Angels sequel. Right now, she’s the closest thing to sunshine you’ll find at the movies. And she brings out a tender side in Sandler. There are whole sections of this movie in which Sandler stops goofing with his pal Rob Schneider, cast as a Samoan stoner who never met a joke about genitals he didn’t like, and concentrates on the love story that gives this movie a heartbeat. Next up, Sandler will work with the gifted writer and director James L. Brooks (Broadcast News, Terms of Endearment, The Simpsons) on a movie called Spanglish. Don’t know about you, but I’m encouraged.

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