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DVD REVIEWS OF NEW RELEASES '50 FIRST DATES' CAN'T SHAKE OFF SANDLER.

Byline: Rob Lowman Entertainment Editor

The premise for ``50 First Dates'' seems like it was dreamt up after a night of reading Oliver Sacks and eating bad Chinese food. The noted neurologist has written about people with short-term amnesia in such books as ``The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.'' But turning this into an Adam Sandler comedy ...

In ``50 First Dates'' Drew Barrymore plays Lucy, who has the same type of memory loss Guy Pearce's character had in ``Memento.'' In her case, she suffered an injury to her temporal lobe in a car accident and wakes up each day thinking it's the morning of the crash. Her father and brother - who have been told her condition is permanent - have kept the illusion up, not wanting her to confront the reality (not that she remembers the next day).

It's then she meets Henry Roth (Sandler), a womanizing veterinarian on the Hawaiian island of Maui, who immediately falls for her - not knowing her problem. When he does, Henry changes his way, realizing that a day with Lucy - no matter how sad it is knowing she won't remember him in the morning - is worth the pain.

This would be a sweet, even ambitious romantic comedy if it weren't for the Sandler factor. Never straying far from humor aimed at 12-year-old boys, there are the expected infantile jokes. The walrus vomiting on Henry's sexually confused Russian assistant is not just crude but so obvious a setup you start taking cover minutes before.

Luckily, Barrymore has almost enough charm for both herself and Sandler, and she makes Lucy strong-willed and admirable. Surprisingly, ``50 First Dates'' ends on a grace note - not enough for you to forgive all the stupid jokes but enough to redeem the film until you quickly forget about it.

``50 First Dates'' (Columbia; $28.95) includes commentary by Barrymore and director Peter Segal, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and music videos.

'Spartan'

If one of our current president's daughters was kidnapped, you might say, ``I didn't know he had two daughters.'' But when Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), a Harvard student and popular daughter of the chief executive, is abducted in David Mamet's political thriller ``Spartan,'' then Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is called in. Scott is a bit of a cipher, some kind of specialist in an ultra-secret government agency.

Laura is believed to have been kidnapped by sex slavers who specialize in white blondes. (Laura has recently dyed her hair that color from red.) But as you know from watching other Mamet films (``House of Games,'' ``The Spanish Prisoner''), nothing on the surface - whether a woman's hair color or a man's personality - is ever what it seems to be.

And you know there is also Mamet's stylized dialogue that, too, always seems to mean something different at the end than it did when it was said.

``Spartan'' is bit like Mamet's last film, ``Heist,'' gritty and professional, diverting without being overly engaging. Kilmer proves again that he's a top-notch actor, navigating the twists and turns in Mamet's character with a naturalism. By the end of ``Spartan,'' however, there may have been too many twists and turns, and the payoff seems less than the ride.

``Spartan'' (Warner; $24.98) includes commentary by Kilmer.

'The Station Agent'

Like its protagonist Fin (played by 4-foot-5 Peter Dinklage), you need a certain amount of patience to get through ``The Station Agent.'' This is far from a knock on this quirky but rewarding film - just a reminder that less can be more. Fin doesn't mind referring to himself as a dwarf, but sensing the real world isn't for him, he has retreated to an old train station he has inherited in a remote part of New Jersey where he works with model trains.

But life has a way of intruding on Fin. First there is Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a talkative Cuban with a food truck who stops by every day. Then there is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), who is mourning the death of her child and going through a divorce - and who plows into Fin's life by almost running him over. And then there is Emily (Michelle Williams), a local librarian who is sexually interested in Fin. Each of them see in the quiet, private and seemly nonthreatening Fin something different, something they need in their lives.

Writer-director Thomas McCarthy keeps the humor alive in this melancholy tale. Oscar nominee Clarkson proves again that she is one of America's finest actresses. But the film belongs to Dinklage, who projects the heart and soul of a hero.

``The Station Agent'' (Buena Vista; $29.99).

'Touching the Void'

``Touching the Void,'' the true story of a 1985 Andes climbing expedition that ended disastrously, is so spectacularly filmed that you're likely to get vertigo watching it. The movie - part documentary, part re-creation of the climb - is about Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two then-20-something Brits who tried to scale a treacherous mountain called Siula Grande. The ascent succeeded, but blinded in snowstorms, Simpson fell and broke his leg on the way down. Alone with all the gear, Yates tried to lower Simpson down on a rope. At one point, Simpson was hanging over a precipice when Yates began to slip. Faced with the choice of going over the cliff with Simpson or saving himself, Yates cut the rope.

Miraculously, Simpson survives. He and Yates face the camera for this film to discuss their experiences. As a climber, Simpson says he would have done the same thing as Yates - cut the rope. It is an incredible story of survival. It took luck - especially in the fall - and perseverance to survive. Seeing the real Simpson sit calmly talking about it reminds us how miraculous it was.

``Touching the Void'' (MGM; $29.98) includes a making-of featurette, the ``Return to Siula Grande'' featurette and a new interview with Simpson and Yates.

TV on DVD

There are actually a number of interesting TV box sets. The first season of ``Monk,'' the quirky mystery starring Tony Shalhoub as the phobic but brilliant San Francisco detective, is out. Sort of a descendant of ``Columbo,'' ``Monk,'' on the USA Network, is the best detective show to hit television in quite a while.

``The Simpsons'' never goes out of style. The fourth season (1992-1993) is when many think the series became what it is today, and the DVD set offers a number of extras.

Season two of ``Curb Your Enthusiasm'' has Larry David as curmudgeonly as ever. While undeniably funny, watching David (co-creator of ``Seinfeld'') constantly undermine his cushy life can also be annoying.

``Dead Like Me,'' the Showtime season about the dead taking jobs as grim reapers while they wait to move on (although they are clueless as to where that would be) is strange, interesting and obviously a tad morbid, though with a sense of humor. It's worth checking out.

Grotesque with a sense of humor describes ``Nip/Tuck,'' the FX series about plastic surgeons. Give the series credit, it doesn't make makeovers look attractive - or painless.

``Monk - The Complete First Season'' (Universal; $59.98) includes all 13 episodes including the two-part pilot; plus four featurettes on four discs.

``The Simpsons - The Complete Fourth Season'' (Fox; $49.98) includes all 22 episodes; commentary, an introduction from creator Matt Groening; and featurettes on four discs.

``Curb Your Enthusiasm - The Complete Second Season'' (Warner; $39.98) includes all 10 episodes from the 2001 season on two discs.

``Dead Like Me - The Complete First Season'' (MGM; $58.96) includes 14 episodes; commentary; deleted scenes; and a behind-the-scenes featurette on four discs.

``Nip/Tuck - The Complete First Season'' (Warner; $59.98) includes the extended pilot; 12 one-hour episodes from the 2003 season; a behind-the-scenes documentary; a featurette on L.A.'s top plastic surgeons; the makeup effects of ``Nip/Tuck''; and a gag reel on five discs.

Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687

robert.lowman(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

5 photos

Photo:

(1) DREW BARRYMORE and ADAM SANDLER in ``50 First Dates''

(2) VAL KILMER in ``Spartan''

(3) CALLUM BLUE and ELLEN MUTH in ``Dead Like Me''

(4) TONY SHALHOUB in ``Monk''

(5) ``THE SIMPSONS''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Review
Date:Jun 15, 2004
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