Arctic marine life veterinarian Henry Roth has his future all mapped out. When he's not tending to the sea animals at Sea Life Park in Hawaii, he is breaking the hearts of mainland tourists in search of a vacation romance. A long-term relationship for Henry is out of the question. It would scuttle his 10-year dream of sailing to Alaska to study the underwater life of walruses. Henry is close to making his dream come true when his schooner, the Sea Serpent, suffers a mishap during a trial run, which lands him at the Hukilau Café where the regulars eye him with distrust when he sets his eyes on one of its patrons, the beautiful young Lucy Whitmore. Henry is immediately smitten with Lucy, and after a first chat with her about waffles and sea mammals, Henry finds himself more and more interested in Lucy. Ignoring his own rule about dating local girls, he makes a date to meet her for breakfast the next day. But when he arrives and makes a reference to their previous conversation, she thinks he's some kind of freak and calls for help. Lucy has no idea who he is. And Henry realizes that if he wants to win her affections, he's going to have to start over again every day for the rest of his life.
For its first few minutes, this romantic comedy, directed by a veteran builder of "Saturday Night Live" star vehicles, looks like another crude, bullying Adam Sandler extravaganza: there are vulgar sexual jokes, a vomiting walrus and the never entirely welcome appearance of Rob Schneider, who plays a Hawaiian stoner named Ula. But then Drew Barrymore shows up as Lucy, a lovely art teacher suffering from temporal lobe damage, and everything starts looking up. She goes after Mr. Schneider with a baseball bat, and engages Mr. Sandler, who plays an easy-going, womanizing veterinarian, in a clever and touching romantic comedy. The film's conceit — Lucy's injury has destroyed her short-term memory, so that she starts each day with no recollection of the one before — is reminiscent of Harold Ramis's immortal "Groundhog Day." While "50 First Dates," deftly directed by Peter Segal from George Wing's witty and heartfelt script, does not have that film's philosophical ambitions, it does follow its premise to a risky conclusion that pays off beautifully. — A. O. Scott
2004-02-13 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of 50 First Dates