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’50 First Kisses’: Swipe left on this rom-com redo

by James Hadfield

Contributing Writer

An incorrigible playboy spots a young woman at a diner in Hawaii and is instantly smitten. After he plucks up the courage to talk to her, they hit it off and arrange to meet again at the same place the following day. But when he goes back, she treats him like a complete stranger. It turns out she has a form of amnesia that makes her forget everything that happened the previous day — but he sets out to woo her anyway. Sound familiar?

This story has been told before, in the 2004 film “50 First Dates,” which fashioned a romantic comedy from the kind of plot device normally reserved for Hitchcockian thrillers and episodes of “Black Mirror.” Conceived as a vehicle for Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, it was an inconsistent mix of gross-out comedy and more earnest drama that enjoyed only a modest box-office haul in Japan.

Yet here it is again, over a decade later, in a patchily entertaining and wholly unnecessary Japanese remake. The film is a reunion for Takayuki Yamada and Masami Nagasawa, who co-starred in the 2007 romance “Say Hello for Me,” but also for writer-director Yuichi Fukuda and the cast of his irreverent late-night TV series, “Yusha Yoshihiko” (“The Hero Yoshihiko”). Initially, it looks like the movie might cater more to fans of the latter — but, much like first dates, first impressions can be misleading.

50 First Kisses (50-kaime no Fāsuto Kisu)
Rating
Run Time 114 mins.
Language JAPANESE, ENGLISH

Following the example of Cellin Gluck’s 2009 “Sideways” remake, Fukuda preserves the original setting but repopulates it with Japanese faces (plus a uniformly mediocre English-speaking support cast).

Sandler’s character is now Daisuke (Yamada), a travel agent who balances his womanizing antics with an improbable passion for astronomy. The object of his affections, Rui (Nagasawa), is an art teacher living with her father (Jiro Sato) and bodybuilding brother (Taiga), who try to preserve the illusion that nothing has changed since the day of the accident that caused her amnesia.

Each evening, they watch the same TV news broadcast of a pre-election Donald Trump, and get Dad to perform a rendition of Pikotaro’s novelty hit, “PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen).” Once Rui has gone to sleep, her family erase all trace of the day, even resetting her smartphone. It’s a good thing she isn’t on Instagram.

The movie is at its strongest during this opening stretch, when Fukuda gives his actors more space to indulge in slapstick comedy and droll, rapid-fire banter. Once Daisuke and Rui embark on their succession of dates, it all starts to get awfully sincere, and the screwball energy of the early scenes gives way to generic TV drama aesthetics. It’s like going on a Tinder date with someone who seemed funny and flirty online but spends the whole evening talking about marriage.

Some of the performers acquit themselves well — Sato, in particular, manages to be very funny while also summoning the requisite pathos in his later scenes — but the romance itself is a bore, made all the more tiresome by how closely it follows the narrative of the original.

While they are both likeable performers, Yamada and Nagasawa lack the natural chemistry that Sandler and Barrymore had. When their lips meet, there’s no hint of passion or raging libidos. “50 First Kisses” nearly delivers on the numerical promise of its title. It’s a shame that none of them are good.