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      50 First Dates Review

      50 First Dates poster

      50 First Dates

      Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune

      As a rule, the more convoluted a comedy's setup, the bigger the laughs should be. An audience shouldn't be made to work too hard for a meager payoff.

      So watching the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore vehicle "50 First Dates" is a flabbergasting experience. Here's a romantic comedy that mixes the premises of "Memento" and "Groundhog Day" yet spends most of its energy convincing you to take its absurd story seriously.

      That story is this: Hawaii-based sea-animal caretaker Henry Roth (no apparent relation to the author of the same name) meets and falls for a cutie named Lucy Whitmore. But Lucy doesn't remember hitting it off with Henry because, thanks to a car-vs.-cow accident, she suffers from short-term memory loss with a contrived time frame: When she wakes up each morning, she has forgotten the previous day and thinks it's the same day of her accident.

      Amazingly, her father Marlin (Blake Clark) and brother Doug (Sean Astin), as well as the workers and customers of the local diner, play along to help her relive that day over and over. Her father even gives her a copy of that day's newspaper, and he and Doug watch tapes of the same Minnesota Vikings game and "The Sixth Sense" just to keep her on her routine.

      Why would they do this? It's not as if her memories would differ if they watched, say, "The Others" for once.

      Their actions can be explained only in the context of giving Sandler's Henry a way to play the good guy by stating the obvious: Gosh, at some point she's going to notice that time has been passing. Plus, Henry is in love with her, so he's got to figure out a way to make their life work. Bring out the violins.

      Sandler's movies always have combined juvenile humor with sentimentality, but the two rarely have seemed so out of synch. A walrus barfs all over Henry's homely assistant, Alexa (Lusia Strus), whose manliness is a running joke, and Astin's Doug is constantly ridiculed for his lisp, steroid usage and problem with nocturnal emissions. Meanwhile, Rob Schneider mugs goofily as a Hawaiian with a cloudy eye and penchant for slapstick mishaps.

      On the flip side, director Peter Segal ("Anger Management") includes numerous cute reaction shots of walruses and sea lions. But the most adorable animals remain the pixie-like Barrymore and Sandler, whose puppy-dog aspects are emphasized even more than usual.

      Although "50 First Dates" begins with a montage establishing Henry as a love-'em-and-leave-'em liar, once he meets Lucy, he's the most considerate guy ever, with no lingering traces of his former persona. It's as if the movie suffers from short-term memory loss as well.

      It certainly isn't consistent with its own logic. If Henry charms Lucy by helping her with the waffle house she builds on her plate every morning, why does she rebuff him for trying the same trick the next time? Why must he devise an elaborate variety of ruses to woo her when she should fall for the same one each time?

      None of these plausibility questions would be worth asking if these variations were funny or if they built up emotional steam, a la Bill Murray reliving the same day in "Groundhog Day." The chuckles here are few and far between.

      The movie's sole selling point turns out to be its sweetness. Sandler, Segal and writer George Wing obviously like all of the characters despite the constant ribbing, and Sandler and Barrymore are as cuddly as a pair of love-struck walruses. But only a sucker would get too close.

      "50 First Dates"

      Directed by Peter Segal; written by George Wing; photographed by Jack Green; edited by Jeff Gourson; production designed by Alan Au; music by Teddy Castellucci; produced by Jack Giarraputo, Steve Golin, Nancy Juvonen. A Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday, Feb. 13. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG-13 (crude sexual humor, drug references).

      Henry Roth - Adam Sandler

      Lucy Whitmore - Drew Barrymore

      Ula - Rob Schneider

      Doug Whitmore - Sean Astin

      Alexa - Lusia Strus

      Dr. Keats - Dan Aykroyd

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