Screenplay : Tim Herlihy
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Adam Sandler (Longfellow Deeds), Winona Ryder (Babe Bennett), John Turturro (Emilio), Steve Buscemi (Crazy Eyes), Jared Harris (Mac), Peter Gallagher (Chuck Cedar), Allen Covert (Marty), Conchata Ferrell (Jan), Roark Critchlow (William)
Woe to poor Adam Sandler. Stuck in what appears to be a cinematic perpetual motion machine, he continues to show up year after year in dim-witted comedies organized around his increasingly unfunny presence. In his latest project, Mr. Deeds, Sandler once again offers ample proof of his limited range in portraying the titular hero by combining the boyish innocence of his character from The Wedding Singer (1998) with the violence of Happy Gilmore (1996)--in Sandler's terms, this is offering something for everyone.
Mr. Deeds is a remake of Frank Capra's earnest fable Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), in which an old-fashioned small-town guy finds that he has suddenly inherited a fortune. Back in 1936, Gary Cooper only inherited $20 million, while Sandler's character, who owns a pizza restaurant in the tiny New Hampshire hamlet of Mandrake Falls, gets his hands on a cool $40 billion in stocks.
Like Cooper, Sandler's Deeds is a perpetual nice guy--his great dream is to pen Hallmark cards and he's so down to earth that he delivers the pizzas even though he owns the restaurant. However, unlike Cooper, Sandler's Deeds has an inexplicable violent streak, which leads to one bizarre scene in which he beats up a bunch of society flakes at a New York restaurant who were dumb enough to make fun of him. Of course, as written, his character should have turned the other cheek, but Sandler's audience loves to see him explode, so explode he does. (One also gets the feeling that the whole Hallmark card angle is just an excuse for Sandler to insert scenes of his reading the kind of silly-poignant poetry that his fans couldn't get enough of on Saturday Night Live--"Little Red Sweatshirt" anyone?)
In true 21st-century manner, Deeds' sudden wealth comes from an uncle who owned a Time-Warner-ish media conglomerate. Because it is headquartered in the bad Big Apple, Deeds must travel there so that oily corporate snakes like CEO Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher) can get the papers in order for him to sell his shares and any control over the company. Of course, as the movie argues in its painfully awkward power-to-the-little-people way, it should be nice guys like Deeds running multi-billion corporations and not weasely Armani-suit types like Cedar (in the post-Enron era, this is certainly a worthy message, although it is lugged around like a wooden cliché). However, when you stop and think about, the movie's ultimate message--what it's really saying--is that enormous conglomerates should never be broken up because people lose jobs, a rather absurd wannabe populist message that ignores things like, oh, monopoly control over information.
At its heart, Mr. Deeds is just another dumbed-down comedy, although it aspires to social satire (while feeling like it was written over a weekend). Director Steven Brill (who helmed Sandler's last vehicle, the underperforming Little Nicky) and writer Tim Herlihy (who has the dubious distinction of having written seven of Sandler's movies) try to get plenty of satirical mileage by going after the all-too-obvious target of the tabloid media, personified in Mac (Jared Harris), the slick and ethically challenged host of an Entertainment Tonight-like show called Total Access (is his Australian accent some kind of an in-joke reference to Wayne Gale in Natural Born Killers?).
Mac has one of his struggling reporters, Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder), go undercover and romance Deeds to get the inside scoop. Of course, because Deeds' heart is so big, he immediately falls in love with the reporter-in-disguise and she with him. Ryder, who is more famous now for her court appearances that for her acting, should be given some credit for maintaining an almost genuine romantic sensibility, which is certainly more appealing than Sandler's puppy-love routine.
Mr. Deeds, although rote and almost completely devoid of laughs, does offer a few small gems courtesy of two talented character actors, Jon Turturro and Steve Buscemi (marking the fourth time now that he's been the best thing in a Sandler vehicle). Turturro plays Emilio, Mr. Deeds' Spanish butler with a foot fetish and an amusing ability to materialize anywhere at any given moment; he's both creepy and charming at the same time. For his part, Buscemi plays a schizophrenic Mandrake Falls local yokel aptly named Crazy Eyes because his retinas are never pointing in the same direction. Buscemi, whose buggy eyes have always been one of his great physical characteristics, plays the part to the hilt by downplaying everything. Every moment he's one screen is funny, which is all well and good except that it constantly reminds you of just how unfunny the rest of the movie is.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick