“I knew you were going to burp,” Adam Sandler tells his favorite walrus, “but the vomiting was awesome.”
Indeed, the projectile vomiting scene in Sandler’s latest comedy, “50 First Dates,” sets some kind of cinematic record for length and consistency of the hurl — not to mention the volume of the audio effects needed for full walrus impact.
Sandler plays Henry Roth, a marine life veterinarian who tends to the sea animals at a Hawaiian park. Here’s even more of a stretch: by night, he’s a philandering cad who practices various ruses, among them impersonating a secret agent, in order to bed the tourists who stop by the islands.
He finally falls for a local art teacher, Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore), for whom every date can only be a one-night stand. Brain-damaged after a traffic accident, Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss. Henry can charm and win her all he wants, but the next morning she's forgotten him and he has to start all over again.
“Nothing beats a first kiss,” she declares, though Henry knows it’s their 23rd. And he figures that by this time he’s entitled to “boob access.” Her doctor (Dan Aykroyd) advises that Lucy’s condition is stable but most likely permanent. This makes a long-term relationship tricky, because every morning Lucy wakes in fright at the discovery of this stranger sleeping beside her.
Peter Segal, the director of Sandler’s last hit, “Anger Management,” tries to find humor in the situation, but he misses more often than he hits. It’s like trying to make a comedy about Alzheimer’s. Maybe it’s possible, but it takes considerably more delicacy than anyone displays here.
George Wing’s screenplay takes its characters seriously without establishing why we should. Blake Clark does what he can with the role of Lucy’s very accommodating father, who creates elaborate daily hoaxes to play tricks with her memory, but he can’t make it play.
Henry is no more credible as a sneaky Casanova than he is as Lucy’s infatuated boyfriend, and there’s not a lot Sandler can do about it. As his best friend, a one-eyed comic-relief Hawaiian named Ula, Rob Schneider wears out his welcome before his first scene is finished. Barrymore tries to camouflage the contradictions in Lucy’s character by giggling a lot.
Contrived and sappy when it isn’t being a gross-out, “50 First Dates” makes you feel new respect for “Groundhog Day,” which dealt so cleverly with the complications of repeating the same day over and over. It’s still a valid idea for a comedy.