“50 First Dates” is at war with itself. At heart it’s a sweet, offbeat love story, in which Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore almost invite the quaint adjective “cuddly.”

But you sense the filmmakers worrying that, in today’s movie market, there’s no money in cuddliness. No one expects every Sandler film to be another “Punch-Drunk Love,” but the new movie’s crude humor jars the romantic mood.

Typical is a scene in which Sandler, playing a marine life veterinarian, expects a sea mammal to belch. Instead, it barfs. After all, vomiting is more photogenic than belching and requires easy special effects. But the laughs that it gets are too easy.

It’s not hard to accept sweet-faced Sandler as a conscientious vet who loves to commune with walruses. But it is difficult to accept him as a womanizer dedicated to liaisons that never last longer than a week. Nevertheless, his fear of commitment vanishes when he meets a lovely young woman whose sense of commitment is shorter than his.

Sandler’s Henry quickly falls in love with Barrymore’s Lucy, whose eccentric humor even tops his own. But humor isn’t her only eccentricity. She was in a car accident that left her with a short-term memory disorder. She begins each day without remembering what happened yesterday, and Henry must woo her anew on a daily basis.

The radiant Barrymore definitely seems worth the trouble. She is effortlessly charming, luscious and, oh yes, she also has sharp comic timing. She and Sandler re-ignite the chemistry they shared in “The Wedding Singer.” But, Drew dear, after “50 First Dates,” “Duplex” and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” you need to start selecting your scripts more carefully.

The film could have made a solid “Saturday Night Live” skit, but the closest it gets is serving as a reunion for onetime cast members. Rob Schneider wins laughs as Henry’s mischievous buddy. Dan Aykroyd, however, cannot find the right note as a pompous, loquacious doctor.

Following his triumphant Sam in “The Lord of the Rings,” Sean Astin makes a game effort at playing Lucy’s dumb-lug of a brother. But his character is exploited only for heavy-handed humor, as is Henry’s gender-bending assistant, played by Lusia Strus.

With its Hawaii locations, “50 First Dates” is photographed with a warm, romantic glow. If only the filmmakers had been unafraid to make a warm, romantic movie.



50 FIRST DATES

Grade: C+

Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Sean Astin, Rob Schneider and Dan Aykroyd. Directed by Peter Segal. Rated PG-13 (sex, language, crude humor). In wide release. 96 min.



(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News.

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AP-NY-02-11-04 1221EST



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