50 First Dates (2004) ***
Directed by Peter Segal.Written by George Wing. Photography, Jack Green. Editing, Jeff Gourson. Production design, Alan Au. Music, Teddy Castellucci. Producers, Jack Giarraputo, Steve Golin, Nancy Juvonen. A Columbia release. 101 minutes. PG-13. Cast: Adam Sandler (Henry Roth), Drew Barrymore (Lucy Whitmore), Rob Schneider (Ula), Sean Astin (Doug Whitmore), Lusia Strus (Alexa), Blake Clark (Marlin Whitmore), Amy Hill (Sue), Allen Covert (Ten-Second Tom), and Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Keats).
The movie’s headlining by Sandler and Barrymore -- not exactly the most notable or endearing actors - promises little but ( surprise!) delivers their goods quite nicely. Set in Hawaii and partly shot there, the film comes on the heels of "The Big Bounce," which is also "Hawaiian" and was released exactly one fortnight earlier. You wonder if there’s a mini-trend developing. Note that here the Hawaiian locations and sets are de-romanticized and can, for a welcome change, look pretty grungy.
Henry Roth (Sandler), the veterinarian-in-residence in a local marina or Sea World, takes his work seriously, but his sideline of seducing and then rapidly unloading female tourists is merely skin deep.
The early scenes of Sandler’s talking to amazingly friendly beasts, notably his "medical" treatment of an Oscar-worthy walrus (who upchucks at some point), are entertainingly comical and far from "déjà vu." Then there’s Ula (Schneider), the local native who assists Roth, is funny (at times gross but not objectionally so,) and has a brood of kids. Add to this another employee, the middle-aged Mrs. Alexa (Lucia Strus) who sounds sort of Russian and whose libido is powerful, albeit rather confusing.
All that is a definitely entertaining preamble to the story’s major development. It comes when Henry, at the local (shabby but colorful) diner, meets Lucy (Barrymore) an also local customer. He is seriously attracted by her. There’s a factual illogicality about this being a first encounter since the community is small and most people know one another -- but let this lacuna be.
The next day, Henry returns to the diner to re-meet Lucy, but he is puzzled by her not recognizing him. That’s when the story cuts to the heart of the matter. Henry and the film’s viewers learn that some time ago, Lucy, the daughter of retired fisherman Marlin Whitmore (Blake Clark) had been in a car accident which resulted in her losing her memory, except what deals with the current day, one that precedes the car crash. So each dawn is a fresh start for Lucy.
Marlin and his son Doug Whitmore, a none-too-bright addict to steroids (Sean Astin), set up every day a charade that matches Lucy’s kind of memory. They are eventually joined by Henry. You have to see the film in order to grasp the complexity of the situation.
The proceeds inevitably entail some repetitions, all justified and more than bearable. The audience is kept in a state of wondering how the story will extricate itself from this unusual plot. I will only reveal that the old goodie-goodie Hollywood cliché of a magic cure is ably avoided while the story proceeds with clever, warm twists, is unusually creative, original and, in a sense, courageous.
The picture is an encouraging, new beginning for Sandler and Barrymore who do very well in truly romantic ways. In Ms. Barrymore’s case it is a quantum leap from the recent, disastrous "Charlie’s Angels."
Even more impressive is the fact that the movie is its writer’s debut, the first ever filmed script by George Wing. As for director Pete Segal, a mid-90s graduate of the University of Southern California, it is his sixth feature. I strongly recommend his third, the satirical, hugely funny "My Fellow Americans," starring Jack Lemmon, James Garner and Dan Aykroyd.