50 FIRST DATES - Blu-ray review

It's cute, it's different, and it's emotionally satisfying. And that's more than enough to compensate for any faults.

James Plath's picture

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler had great chemistry in "The Wedding Singer," and managed to find it again in "50 First Dates." Though the set-up in this light romantic comedy is a bit strained, once you get into the main interaction with the two stars you get both the laughs and the emotion that you hope for in a film like this.

Barrymore and Sandler won the MTV Award for Best On-Screen Team, and they do click together in a quiet and understated way. Barrymore plays Lucy Whitmore, a woman who lost her short-term memory in an automobile accident and lives each day over and over again, like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." Sandler, meanwhile, is Henry Roth, a marine park veterinarian with a soft spot for a giant walrus and tourist women with vacation mentality. He's a scammer of the highest order who specializes in one night stands every night of the week, and age, race, class, even gender doesn't seem to matter. But there's something about this local girl who makes houses out of her breakfast waffles that he finds irresistible. The trouble is, any headway he makes with her one day is lost overnight because she's a headcase. Literally. An accident has destroyed her short-term memory, so he has to meet her and win her over day after day.

Though Columbia publicity bills it as "the ultimate bachelor" facing "the ultimate challenge," it's really a sweeter film than that. Director Peter Segal ("My Fellow Americans," "Tommy Boy,") takes the high road for the most part, avoiding the situational silliness and lowbrow humor that plagued his "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." Sure, there's a gross-out barf joke, and the minor characters are so silly that you think they've taken one too many surfboards to the head. But Barrymore's naturally quiet flirtatiousness sets the tone, and it's perfect for Sandler to react to. He's a basically normal guy this time around, with a nice guy streak that makes you wonder how he could have been such a cad with all those tourist women.

There are flaws, certainly. For one thing, George Wing's script doesn't move the premise beyond gimmickry to where it can become an arena for character development. Maybe that's because Wing spends so much of the time trying to explain the actions of the people in Lucy's life. Okay, she has a trauma injury that knocked out her short-term memory, but why in the world would her father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin) reenact the last day she remembers, complete with newspapers printed up and family showings of the same movie every night? And why would the people at the diner where she ate breakfast that pre-fateful day play along with the ruse? Lucy has a doctor (Dan Akroyd), so why is it up to Henry to shake her out of her memory loss by introducing elements into her life that show time has passed and that every day isn't really Sunday, October 13th? And why wouldn't it occur to her family to try such mild shock therapy? These are some pretty big questions, but Sandler and Barrymore are actually so good in their roles that you can almost accept the characters' irrational behavior as "Northern Exposure" erratic, and nothing more. As the people in Lucy's life circle the Spam wagons to protect her from this new man in her life, you can almost forgive any lack of logic in their actions.

But brace yourself for some over-the-top minor characters. Rob Schneider plays a Cheech & Chong clone named Ula, who supposedly trains the animals at the marine attraction by feeding them hash brownies. And Henry's assistant Alexa (Lusia Strus) is as much of a Teutonic caricature as Dr. Evil's right-hand woman in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." On the flip side, Clark and Astin are wholly believable and engaging as the concerned father and brother, and Hukilau Cafe denizens Sue (Amy Hill) and a cook Henry calls Tattoo Face (Pomaika'i Brown) add enough local color to make for quite a mural.
You also have to give credit to the animal stars—a gigantic walrus and diminutive penguin— and "kikis," the Hawaiian locals hired to play Ula's kids. Animals and kids are show-stealers, and these would have committed grand larceny were it not for the talents of the two stars.

Video: The SD release looked awfully good, mastered in High Definition, so this is another case where the leap from SD to Blu-ray doesn't seem as obvious until you do scene comparisons. Yes, there's more detail in many scenes, but the backgrounds tend to be ever-so-slightly muted, the way that Vaseline made the old stars look dreamy rather than have their adoring public see every wart and wrinkle up close. I don't know if it was the long lens that was used, or if it's the atmospheric conditions, but the backgrounds aren't as pop-out sharp as on some Blu-ray discs. Then again, this was among the first releases by Sony, so they were still feeling their way. At least there are none of the hiccups here that plagued some of the early releases. All in all, not a bad picture, presented in the same 2.40:1 ratio as the SD version, but, of course, it isn't anamorphic. The Blu-ray provides 1920x1080p full resolution picture, and while it's better than the SD version, I can't say that it's one I'd pop in the player to show guests what Blu-ray can do.

Audio: I don't know why there are even other sound options on the Blu-ray releases. The English PCM 5.1 uncompressed 6-channel soundtrack is the one to listen to. It's been consistently full and rich, with a mellow bass and bright treble in most all of the Blu-ray discs I've reviewed. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtrack in English and French offers a slightly flatter sound experience. Many more subtitle options have been added to the Blu-ray release. There's English, English SDH, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai.

Extras: Blu-ray thus far has meant superior picture and inferior bonus features. The original SD release offered a commentary, filmographies, deleted scenes, a sneak preview, music viewo, short "pidgin" feature, and a blooper reel. The Blu-ray release gives you the commentary, blooper reel, and "Talking Pidgin" short feature, but that's pretty good. Many Blu-ray discs offer no extras, and it's especially nice to have the commentary on this one, which features director Peter Segal and Drew Barrymore. Aside from some embarrassingly gushing mutual admiration society moments, their running commentary is fresh and unabashed, a real joy to listen to. They point out how they filmed one romantic scene at the same beach used in "From Here to Eternity," and tell how locals warned Barrymore just in time before she took a dip in the bay where the Café was located. Good thing, because it was a notorious hammerhead shark breeding area. The whole Hawaii thing, we learn, was because of Sandler, who thought it would be more romantic. Originally the script had the location as Seattle. "Memoryless in Seattle"? Naw. Hawaii was a good move.

"Talking Pidgin" is really a throwaway, but the blooper reel is better than most because of the stars' chemistry. Fans will think it all too short, though.

Bottom Line:
It may not go down as a romantic comedy classic, but "50 First Dates" offers plenty of humor and feel-good moments. It's cute, it's different, and it's emotionally satisfying. And that's more than enough to compensate for any faults.


Film Value