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Total Recall

Sandler-Barrymore memory-loss comedy is best forgotten

Josh Bell

Sometimes it's hard to understand the way people in Hollywood think. Imagine screenwriter George Wing sitting in a theater watching Christopher Nolan's brilliant 2000 thriller Memento, thinking to himself, "You know, this movie is pretty good, but it'd be a whole lot better if it were a romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Hey, wait a minute …"


And thus, 50 First Dates is born; because crippling brain diseases are funny. Actually, the disease afflicting Guy Pearce's character in Memento—a loss of short-term memory that renders a person unable to form new memories—was used to great comedic effect by Ellen DeGeneres' Dory in Finding Nemo. But, 50 First Dates is not nearly as funny or heartwarming as Nemo, nor as gripping and suspenseful as Memento. Instead, it's just typical romantic-comedy mush, with the short-term memory loss substituting for whatever obstacle to love Sandler and Barrymore have faced in past movies.


Sandler, like Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly, is seriously coasting on his reputation and past successes here. He's even become such a mega-star that his character, Henry Roth, is presented as some kind of lothario, bedding a different hot woman every week, when in reality he still looks like Adam Sandler. Henry is a veterinarian at a Hawaii aquarium, where his relationships with walruses and penguins are far more committed than his relationships with human women, which he confines to flings with tourists whom he's guaranteed never to see again. Sandler as emotionally-stunted guy with wacky occupation? Check. Let's move on.


Henry runs into Lucy (Barrymore) at a diner, where she's making a little house out of her waffles. She charms him with her love of fishy smelling hands and pineapple-picking, then impulsively asks to see him again. Barrymore as cute but quirky girly-girl? Check.


Of course, Lucy has that pesky Memento disease, so she doesn't remember Henry when he shows up the next day to have breakfast with her again. It seems she's been reliving the same day over and over again since her brain-damaging car accident a year before, thanks to her father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin), who painstakingly re-create the day so as to not upset her. With the help of his lewd Hawaiian buddy Ula (Rob Schneider as crazy sidekick? Do you even need to ask?), Henry sets out to win Lucy's heart, even if she can't remember him from day to day.


The problem is that it takes an hour before we even get to the point where Lucy is confronted with her condition, and then Wing and Anger Management director Peter Segal ignore the better comedic potentials of the disease (again, see Finding Nemo) and just pour on the sap. Barrymore pouts and bats her eyelashes, Sandler sings a goofy song, Schneider puts on an accent and falls down, and they all live happily ever after. Since those '80s songs worked so well for Sandler and Barrymore in The Wedding Singer, here we get Island-ified retreads of '80s songs. Now, that's evolution.


In his early days, Sandler was a love-him-or-hate-him figure, with his abrasive comedy either leaving you in stitches or itching to leave. If nothing else, he had his own style. These days, Sandler is about as safe as, well, a boring romantic comedy, throwing in one or two juvenile jokes along with the sentiment, and appealing straight down the middle. Punch-Drunk Love notwithstanding, he's done nothing but sleepwalk through the same role for years now, and you get the impression that if Love's director Paul Thomas Anderson hadn't come a-calling, Sandler never would have given a second thought to expanding his repertoire.


None of this will matter to the vast audience for 50 First Dates, which has a no-brainer Valentine's Day-weekend opening. But even Sandler die-hards may find themselves getting a little tired. He's sadly upstaged by Schneider, who has a hard time carrying movies of his own but is perfect in the supporting role of Ula, and when Rob Schneider is the best thing about your movie, you know you have a problem. Barrymore is sufficiently cute, but she doesn't do anything here that she didn't already do opposite Sandler in The Wedding Singer. The film ends up so generic that you may wake up the next day thinking you've contracted that Memento disease yourself, unable to remember anything you saw at the theater the night before.

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