Repeating the Past

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler co-star in another kooky movie. (courtesy photo)

'50 First Dates' is déjà vu all over again

Should a clumsy movie with a good idea get credit for that good idea, even if it's more or less stolen from another, much better movie?

Something about 50 First Dates screams "yes" - if only because the device the script swipes from Groundhog Day is employed so differently, and with such sweetness, that you may well find yourself rooting for the film, begging it - after 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour - to become better than it has been so far.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray was condemned to go through the same day over and over, the only character conscious of the time warp. Here, Drew Barrymore's Lucy is the oblivious one: Everyone around her knows that time is marching forward, but thanks to a brain injury, Lucy wakes up every morning thinking she is back on her father's birthday, the day a car wreck dented her skull.

Lucy's condition isn't conducive to courtship. Chronic womanizer Henry (Adam Sandler) hits it off with her one morning, only to learn that he will have to charm her anew every day if he wants to spend time with her.

The film's advertisements (and the example of Groundhog Day) suggest that this endless cycle of blank slates will be exploited for comedy. That's not the case. We're shown a few minutes of amusing variations - Henry gets shot down a number of days in a row, then comes up with some imaginative ways to get Lucy's attention - but he quickly learns enough about her that the question is not how to flirt with her, but how to build a relationship that lasts more than 24 hours at a time.

The film finds very little that's funny in this question, and understandably so: It involves many mornings of waking Lucy up and telling her she has just lost a year of her life. The screenplay (by first-timer George Wing) almost knows how to shift gears from wacky comedy to tender compassion, but director Peter Segal has no idea how to handle the material.

50 First Dates

Dir. Peter Segal; writ. George Wing; feat. Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Sean Astin, Rob Schneider, Blake Clark (PG-13)
Segal flubs everything he does here, in fact: When we first learn of Lucy's accident, back in the kooky phase of the plot, he gives us a flashback with slow-motion and portentous close-ups that yank us completely out of the mood he's trying to establish. The first time we see Lucy learn about her condition, Segal stumbles through the sequence like a novice; after that, the film never finds the right pace.

Sandler delivers reasonably big laughs in two scenes (both involve him losing his emotional grip), but most of the small gags sprinkled throughout (tired shock material about gender confusion and bodily functions) are a waste of time, at odds with what the story needs to do to make us care.

It's enough to make you think that every day the director woke up and went to the set thinking he was still making The Nutty Professor II. By the end of the day, he remembers he's trying to win your heart - but all he can do is hope for better luck tomorrow. •