Henry Roth's (Sandler) happy existence as a philandering Hawaii-based vet is brought to a halt when he falls for Lucy (Barrymore), who suffers from short-term memory loss. Since she can never remember meeting him, Henry romances her anew every day in the hope that eventually her memory will be jogged.
On paper, this high concept rom-com - apparently a Hawaiian-set date-movie dumbing-down of Memento - is standard-issue Sandler, complete with gross-out gags, casual misogyny, caricature supporting players and, of course, Sandler himself, whose wheedling man-child act is in danger of wearing thin these days.
But despite dire prognostications, when Sandler spots Barrymore building a teepee out of her breakfast waffles and puts his serial-shagger moves on her, well-honed as they are on the gullible tourists, something strange happens. Not only does he fall instantly in love with her, but so do we. From this point on the movie is illuminated by a superhumanly adorable performance from Barrymore who thwarts the crass bum notes, ludicrous premise and even Sandler's infantile goo-gooings with a charm offensive of thermonuclear proportions. Thanks to her, this is a surprisingly warm, funny and often quite touching film that recalls the sly charm of The Wedding Singer, her last pairing with Sandler. That's two for two - maybe they should make all their movies together.
For 50 First Dates pulls off what all romantic comedies strive for but few achieve - making you care about the characters and root for them to be together, rather than despise them as moony, self-satisfied gits. That it does this while combining projectile walrus puke and Rob Schneider in a major supporting role is an achievement not to be sniffed at.
In spite of a precarious central conceit, with Sandler toning down his neo-Jerry Lewis schtick and Barrymore on irresistibly huggable top form, this is charming and effective feel-good fare. Gossamer thin but lots of fun nevertheless.