By John Anderson
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With 50 First Dates it seems as though Adam Sandler is trying to compile a greatest-hits film, cobbling together the stuff that worked in his previous films in the hopes that it'll play even better all in one go. There's the falsetto comedy song bit from every episode of Saturday Night Live, an angry golfer bit from Happy Gilmore, Drew Barrymore and a bunch of '80s songs (performed in lousy cover versions by the likes of Ziggy Marley, Wayne Wonder, 311, and Nick Hexum) from The Wedding Singer, and even Hawaii as romantic locale from Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler, along with first-time screenwriter George Wing and Anger Management director Peter Segal, also borrows from other actors' SNL skits -- a character named Ten Second Tom (perennial Sandler costar Allen Covert) is a cheap crib of Tom Hanks' Mr. Short-Term Memory.
Needless to say, since we've seen it all before and it wasn't even that innovative the first time, it plays more like a collection of B-sides and outtakes, occasionally registering a fun moment but more often feeling like throwaway stuff that was correctly jettisoned the first time around.
The presence of Drew Barrymore should be a tip-off that Sandler's in sweet romantic mode in the vein of Wedding Singer and Mr. Deeds, and he gets there eventually, but not before we've endured walrus puking, near-endless cutaways to a laughing penguin, unfunny stereotype jokes about a manly Russian woman (Lusia Strus), and a so-ridiculous-it's-almost-too-stupid-to-be-racist turn by Rob Schneider as a Pacific Islander with a glass eye and a joint stashed in his exposed butt crack.
We're dealing with high concepts here too. Usually, Sandler plays a goof-off or underachiever, but here he plays a marine biologist who also happens to be a master of seduction -- disbelief is about as easily suspended here as Schneider's pants. Once you've swallowed Sandler as scientist, along comes Barrymore in Memento mode, unable to recall any day of her life that has occurred subsequent to a cow-related car accident (filmed with much pseudo-artsiness, as if the director briefly forgot he was making an Adam Sandler comedy). For some strange reason, her father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin, with new, pumped-up, post-Sam Gamgee physique) have decided to deal with her condition by pretending that every day is Dad's birthday and have enlisted the cooperation of the entire village. In the forthcoming German comedy Good bye, Lenin!, a similar deception works as plot because the character being fooled has a fragile heart and can't take a shock, but here there's no good reason, save some cheap laughs about predicting football games and the plot twist in The Sixth Sense.
If you can buy all that, Sandler and Barrymore do have some charming moments together. It seems strange given her infamously turbulent past, but Barrymore excels at playing sweet naiveté -- she could do it in her sleep, and at times that's exactly what she does here. Sandler's character is not believable, though, and not even consistent; there's a joke about his having seduced a fat girl and a guy (manly King of Queens star Kevin James) early on, yet that doesn't make sense when compared with his romantic choices as the movie progresses.
Will Sandler fans enjoy the movie? Probably, even though the bawdy frat-boy crowd may not groove to the mushy stuff in the film's second half. But this isn't a movie to win over any new fans to the fold, unless The Lord of the Rings has inspired many of you to compulsively watch anything Sean Astin appears in from here on out. Frankly, though, even if Astin had gotten that Best Supporting Actor nomination y'all were hoping for, his turn herein as a lisping steroid addict with a wet-dream problem might have been sufficient to deny him the victory vote.
On the other hand, if you really, really love scenes of walruses high-fiving and multiple conversations about walrus penis size, Sandler may have answered your prayers (Sandler is referred to at other points as having a head resembling an egg, i.e., he is the egg man, which may make the whole thing a subtle Beatles reference, but that's likely giving the filmmakers too much credit). There's also that penguin in the Hawaiian shirt, but aside from the joke you've already seen in the trailer, that bird gets tiresome mighty quick. As for the hilarity that any and all references to Spam are apparently supposed to provoke... ever hear of Monty Python? Ever get sick of jokes that haven't been innovative since that time?
For the sake of full disclosure, though, the screening audience was amused -- there are some good laughs in there, but somewhat randomly -- and my date was suitably charmed, an outcome desirable to most moviegoers. If you've never seen a Sandler movie before, however, this isn't the one to start with. Proceed only if you're sure you like the guy.
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