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50 First Dates: Review

Hollywood loves to feel good, and it likes to spread this to its viewers whatever be the effort or price. Columbia Tristar's "50 First Dates" has Adam Sandler playing a veterinarian specialising in marine mammals, and Drew Barrymore a young woman, Lucy, with a memory dysfunction. She can retain her things only for 24 hours, and her inability to transform her short-term memory into a long-term one forms the core of a "romantic comedy". At least, that is how the film's producer describes "50 First Dates". Never mind the fatal flaw of mixing a terrible condition -- Anterograde Memory Dysfunction -- with the notion of the comic. Screenwriter George Wing and director Peter Segal seem comfortable with this idea. And, they go along with gags, some quite juvenile, others not quite so.

Sandler -- Henry on the screen -- is a delightful charmer who seduces vacationing women with the hope that each affair would not last beyond a few days. But, when he meets Lucy, he is so smitten by her that he is willing to start afresh his wooing every morning. This is the dilemma that the movie tackles, not always convincingly though.

However, what I do admire in the film is its ability to break away from a cliched end, which an average Hindi or Tamil movie would have chosen if for nothing else at least for the feel-good sensation to last a few hours after the curtain had come down. But, Wing and Segal team up to steer "50 First dates" to a novel end, and yet manage not to let the peppy mood change.

Sandler, who paired with Barrymore in "The Wedding Singer", is known for infantile exercises, but I saw a different version of him in his earlier "Punch-Love Drunk", where Emily Watson is his love interest. In "50 First Dates", Sandler manages to sustain audience attention by an even better performance. His stubborn decency and fierce loyalty often obscured by his natural belligerence shine through, and you never question the ferocity or the steadfastness of Henry's love for Lucy.

Barrymore herself does not allow her terrible helplessness to come in the way of some breezy entertainment. She shows pluck and intelligence, and, more important, does not allow Sandler to monopolise the jokes.

True, some of them are childish. We are treated to one involving bruised testicles, a gag in which a walrus vomits all over Henry's sexually ambiguous Russian assistant. There is also Sandler's fellow ''Saturday Night Live'' alumnus Rob Schneider, who plays a goofy Hawaiian stoner named Ula.

To add to our discomfort, we have the first abysmal minutes, where several women talk of Henry's sexual prowess, and this is where I wished I could, like Lucy, have short-term amnesia.

"50 First Dates" has serious limitations as a celluloid work, but does show a spark or two that redeems it from sinking to the rock bottom.

(This review appeared in The Hindu dated June 18 2004)

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