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50 First Dates

A lot of men fear commitment, but Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) has transformed his phobia of clingy women into a system that guarantees no-strings nookie — a zoologist at a Hawaiian ocean park, he absolutely refuses to date anyone who's local. Which works out great, since Hawaii is the perfect destination for single women looking for a bit of romance far from the mainland. It couldn't be a better arrangement for Henry, whose two chief loves are walruses and sailboats. In fact, for several years he's been planning to sail from Hawaii to Alaska to study walruses in their native habitat. But after he snaps a mast off his boat during a shakedown cruise, he winds up at a local diner while waiting for the Coast Guard to arrive. Once there, he's immediately struck by Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), a pretty young girl who thinks a fun way to have breakfast is making clever houses out of waffles. Despite his self-imposed rules, Henry wants to know more about Lucy, and before long they plan to meet again for breakfast. But the next day Lucy treats Henry like some sort of stalker, and before long he learns the horrible truth — injured in a car accident more than a year earlier, Lucy is unable to remember anything for longer than one day, and she wakes up every morning thinking it's her father's birthday from one year ago. Undeterred, Henry find himself determined to reach Lucy by making her fall for him all over again every day, despite her family's opposition. As Paul Thomas Anderson so wonderfully illustrated in Punch Drunk Love (2003), Adam Sandler has two chief strengths as an actor — he can be insanely sweet and deliciously angry. It's been Sandler's hole-card since he first made his mark as a leading player in Billy Madison (1995) and Happy Gilmore (1996), and Anderson (an avowed Sandler fan who wrote PDL for him) took both elements to amusing, occasionally disturbing extremes. When Sandler's films don't fare so well, it's primarily because they try to be one thing more than the other — or even worse, come up short on both accounts. 50 First Dates (2004) grossed $120 million domestically, making it a hit in the studio ledger. But a lot of that is a result of Sandler's evident sweetness, with his somewhat loopy, hesitant, almost childish manner of speaking. What's missing are the laugh-out-loud moments that make Sandler as a movie star so unique. To be sure, there are a few to be found here — he has a wonderfully temperamental soliloquy on his boat toward the film's conclusion, and a scene in which he hits on Drew Barrymore by pretending he can't read a lunch-counter menu is vintage stuff. Barrymore also gets in a few laughs, particularly when she beats the hell out of Rob Schneider (almost unrecognizable as Sandler's Hawaiian co-worker) with a steel baseball bat. But even if Adam Sandler needs a dark side, 50 First Dates is a light, tropical breeze, and as such it's harmless, starting off as a mainstream Hollywood comedy and gently evolving into a sincere love story. Barrymore is note-perfect in her role as Lucy, and Sandler has proven his leading-man chops in projects like this. But for true fans, you'll be spinning Happy Gilmore again and again — it's hard to say when Adam Sandler will repeat the genius of that small comic masterpiece. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of 50 First Dates features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include a commentary with Drew Barrymore and director Peter Segal, the featurettes "The Dating Scene" (20 min.), "Talking Pidgin: Hawaiian Slang" (4 min.), and "Comedy Central's Reel Comedy" (20 min.), a blooper reel (7 min.), five deleted scenes, three music videos, a promo for Sandler's latest comedy album, and a gallery of Columbia TriStar trailers. Keep-case.

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