50 First Dates. Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Peter Segal. Written by George Wing. Running time: 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for crude sexual humor and drug references). Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Sean Astin, Rob Schneider, Blake Clark.

50 First Dates

Well, color me surprised.

After being subjected to Adam Sandler Movie after Adam Sandler Movie, I had grown to expect nothing but dumb jokes and gross-out humor from his traditional outings ("traditional" meant to exempt Punch-Drunk Love, which was really a P.T. Anderson Movie, anyway). Then along came 50 First Dates, which the trailer made to look like every other bad movie Sandler has ever made.

But it's not. Gone is the adolescent, whiny, hateful Sandler of old; in his place is a more mature, kinder version, along with a screenplay that actually turns out to be rather sweet, if not exactly airtight. Sandler plays Henry Roth, a Hawaiin veterinarian with a commitment problem. All this changes, however, when he meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) at breakfast. They start a conversation, and soon Henry is in love, as, it seems, is Lucy. But there is one problem: the next morning, when Henry goes to meet Lucy, she doesn't remember him. Turns out Lucy was in a car accident and lost her short-term memory. Every morning, she forgets everything that happened the previous day. The façade is kept going by Lucy's father (Blake Clark) and brother (Sean Astin), who do everything possible (manufacturing newspapers, watching The Sixth Sense over and over and over) to keep up the ruse.

The screenplay for 50 First Dates doesn't seem like one for an Adam Sandler comedy. There's hardly a cynical frame in the movie, and actually very little gross-out humor. But, as is par for the course, there is some, and it doesn't work. But something strange happened. Instead of turning me off of the project, these out-of-place incidents actually made me appreciate the solidity of the underlying screenplay even more.

That is, as solid as this kind of script can be. There are a number of plot-holes and contrivances, and Lucy's condition completely undermines psychological study, but I can overlook this kind of thing, especially when the actual film is charming, which 50 First Dates most certainly is. And I really appreciate the way the movie ends; it doesn't cheap out with a false happy ending, but delivers one nonetheless that actually turns out to be rather effective.

Adam Sandler is charmingly goofy, likeable, and really not much more can be said about his performance. He manages to keep from ever being obnoxious, which is a nice change of pace. Drew Barrymore is radiant; forget Meg Ryan, there are few actresses out there who are as adept at the romantic lead as Barrymore. She is charming, likeable, and adorable as all get-out. The chemistry between Sandler and Barrymore isn't white-hot, but there is a spark of some sort. Sean Astin, no longer hobbited out, is good as well, although his lisp can be annoying. Blake Clark provides able support. Rob Schneider, as Sandler's stoner Hawaiian buddy, is as tiresome as ever.

So yeah. I wasn't expecting much from 50 First Dates, so when it delivered I was shocked. It isn't a great film, but it's certainly entertaining, and about as good a Valentine's day movie as one could reasonably expect. In tuning down what usually makes his work so sub-par, Adam Sandler has delivered his best movie yet. Excluding, of course, Punch-Drunk Love.