*/**** Image A Sound A- Extras C+
starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin
screenplay by George Wing
directed by Peter Segal
by Walter Chaw The stupid version of Groundhog Day, or, more to the point, the capering warm-up act for Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latest Adam Sandler vehicle 50 First Dates is just like almost every other alleged comedy released in the first quarter of any year in that lacks pace and energy. I don't know when it got so hard to make a movie with forward momentum, but I can tell you that the point in the film where you start to count the "dates" to figure out when the damned thing is going to end comes early. Still, there's a moment in the picture involving a brain-damaged young woman making a decision to erase the love of her life from her memory that caught me off guard, causing me to realize how much I hold out hope that Sandler will do another film like Punch-Drunk Love. Sad fact is, though, that it may never happen.
Henry (Sandler) is a vet at a Honolulu aquarium mainly because this gives hack director and Sandler crony Peter Segal the chance to insert a staggering number of penguin and walrus reaction shots, one for every time the imagination runs a little thin. An incurable philanderer, Henry one day falls in love with Lucy (Drew Barrymore), a woman injured in a pineapple-picking accident that causes her to forget everything that happened to her during the day while she sleeps at night. In another stroke of genius, Segal compares Barrymore's head to a pineapple--not a bad comparison, but not a flattering one, either. Henry's best friend is Ula, played by Rob Schneider in what amounts to a blackface performance as an ethnic Samoan, providing for the film its biggest laugh when Lucy takes a baseball bat to him. The bigger laugh would have been someone taking a baseball bat to Lucy. And Henry.
When Segel decides to give the penguin and the walrus a break, he rolls out the old people who swear and adorable moppets--50 First Dates is an example of how to turn what was probably an ambitious script into a star vehicle, catering to Sandler's fans by referencing Happy Gilmore and catering to Sandler himself by giving Rob Schneider a large role that continues Sandler's disturbing propensity in all of his films to demean every imaginable Asian target (Schneider himself guilty once before as the voice of an Asian waiter in Eight Crazy Nights). There's a level of hate in Sandler's films that's disturbing; that the hate seems to be focused almost entirely on Asians appears to be forgivable mainly because Asians are the last great ethnic target whose abuse is sanctioned by mainstream American culture. Sandler helps.
There's an interesting thought in 50 First Dates about how the camera can function as memory, working the same way that Leonard Shelby's body art worked in Memento. And of course there's that fascinating moment in which Lucy decides that she's going to erase all knowledge of Henry, a melancholy sequence so well-crafted that it belongs in an entirely different film. But it's not enough to forgive a picture that, like almost everything produced under Sandler's Happy Madison banner, relies on laziness and the continued indulgence of a not-demanding audience, eternally one straw away from its back breaking. That 50 First Dates is awful is no surprise--that it appears to have had the potential to be great is just heartbreaking. Originally published: February 13, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Columbia TriStar releases 50 First Dates in competing widescreen and fullscreen Special Editions, of which we received the former for review. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is borderline perfect, with an inconsistent black level the only bad I can think to say about it after much deliberation. Less impressive is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix--a shame that the film looks more ambitious than a comedy but sounds exactly like the typical example of one: unassuming. Extras include a feature-length commentary track pairing Drew Barrymore with director Peter Segal, who expresses disappointment off the top that Adam Sandler couldn't join them. (Judging by the non-descript wording on the packaging ("Director and Cast Commentary"), Sony also hoped he'd be there.) One comes away from a listen less than edified, if desperate to read George Wing's original screenplay, dismissed by Segal (though not by the exceedingly diplomatic Barrymore) as "too dramatic"--whatever that means. From the sound of things, there's no correlative to Rob Schneider's character in the Wing draft, though Wing's basic structure, ending and all, remained more or less untarnished by Sandler-sponsored committeethink. Perhaps the yak-track's most startling revelation is that some 180 shots of 50 First Dates contain CGI augmentations.
Under "Special Features," find three prefab featurettes: a straightforward making-of called "The Dating Scene" (20 mins.), in which the film is repeatedly referred to by its original title, 50 First Kisses (tying in with Barrymore's credit-crawl confession that her first kiss in real life was with Breckin Meyer); "Talkin' Pidgin" (5 mins.), a guide to Hawaiian slang; and "Comedy Central's Reel Comedy" (20 mins.), in which an in-character Schneider interviews Barrymore and Sandler. (You've been warned.) The only intriguing tidbit occurs in "The Dating Scene", wherein we see Lusia Strus, who plays Sandler's "It's Pat!"-inspired assistant, out of her androgynous make-up--she's beautiful enough to give Charlize Theron's transformation into Aileen Wuornos a run for its money. (Happily, the sole true artist on the picture, DP Jack N. Green (Unforgiven), gets a word in edgewise: "As pretty as Hawaii is," he says, "these goddamn clouds.")
A 7-minute "blooper reel," five deleted scenes totalling 5 minutes with optional commentary from Segal (nothing here worth singling out), an unpromising commercial for "Sandler's New Album," videos for Wayne Wonder's "Hold Me Now" and 311's "Amber" and "Love Song," and filmographies for Segal, Wing, Sandler, Barrymore, Schneider, Sean Astin, and Dan Aykroyd finish off the bonus material. A soundtrack promo for Maverick Records plus trailers for this film, "Seinfeld" (which also precedes the main menu), Spider-Man 2, Hellboy, 13 Going on 30, Secret Window, White Chicks, The Company, Anger Management, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Big Daddy, Punch-Drunk Love, Mr. Deeds, and Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights round out the disc. Originally published: June 15, 2004.