What do you get when you mix Adam Sandler with SPAM gags, a trained vomiting walrus, a wall-to-wall soundtrack of calypso covers of 1980s pop hits, and Rob Schneider in native-Islander brownface? You get a pretty crappy movie but for one major mitigating factor: Drew Barrymore. Dates
is one of those movies-by-committee that aims to please every red-blooded American and his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. Someone’s market research suggested that women like Sandler’s puppy-dog eyes and falsetto singing, yellow Volkswagen Things, and Drew Barrymore in flowy skirts, while their dudes want transgender jokes, wacky mental illnesses, and a lovable puffin sidekick named Willie. (He even wears a little aloha shirt.) But in spite of all these machinations, Dates
has an element of emotional authenticity, and it owes everything to Barrymore. As Lucy, a lovely amnesiac who forgets everything that happened at the end of each day due to a head injury (the movie calls this condition "Goldfield’s syndrome," but it’s more like Groundhog Day
disorder), Barrymore is fresh and credible. She does all the film’s heavy lifting while Sandler assumes the pose of a romantic leading man, proffering lilies and singing cutesy little songs by the sea. I bought him as a romantic leading man in P.T. Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love
, when he was beating up a public restroom and compulsively collecting low-calorie pudding, but here an attempt at conventional matinee-idol charm seems to have been grafted onto his usual comedic persona of scarcely contained rage. It’s an awkward mix, and even though the film’s tagline confidently calls him "the ultimate bachelor," Sandler doesn’t walk the walk, and Segal isn’t enough of a director to sell it. Bachelor, OK – Sandler lives on a boat and plays with marine mammals, like a seafaring man-boy – but ultimate? Incredibly, the movie opens with a montage of beautiful women gushing about being wooed by Sandler while vacationing on Oahu. ("He pounded me like a mallard duck!" exclaims one, in Mandarin.) It’s just hard to swallow. But when Barrymore looks at him adoringly, the moments feel real because she’s thoroughly invested in them. She carries the wacky premise all the way down the field with an assist from Clark, who’s wonderful as her gruff father; their situation elicits genuine sympathy. The rest of the characters are overwritten and bizarre walking gags. As Barrymore’s bodybuilding brother, Astin whines about wet dreams and flexes his pecs and glutes with such rhythmic vigor that I’ve been fully disabused of any fantasies about makin’ furry love in a Hobbit house. Don’t get me started on Schneider, a pakalolo-smoking putative Polynesian (in a heavy coat of bronzer) who says dumb shit like calling a penis a "poi-poi." I don’t use the word "racist" lightly, but not since the landing of Capt. Cook has one haole done so much to invite a serious ass-kicking. Barrymore gets to beat him with a bat in one scene, perhaps in exchange for all her hard work.