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Mr. Deeds

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Mr. Deeds

Starring: Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder
Director: Steven Brill
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: June 2002
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Rob Schneider, Allen Covert, Peter Dante, Peter Gallagher, Jared Harris, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4

"Mr. Deeds," the new Adam Sandler movie, has left me in an awkward position. The comedy is sloppy, juvenile and obvious, no question about it, yet I found it funny and charming. The term devised for movies like this - works that are simultaneously enjoyable and critically indefensible - is "a guilty pleasure," but I feel it would be cheating to employ the catch phrase without at least trying to explain my reaction.

So here goes nothing.

While technically a remake of the classic 1936 Frank Capra comedy, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," the film is a typical Adam Sandler offering, with only a few minor changes. After alienating a sizable chunk of his core audience with the disastrous "Little Nicky," Sandler plays it extra safe this time around, portraying a character even nicer than the one in "The Wedding Singer."

Longfellow Deeds (Sandler) is a pizzeria owner and aspiring greeting card writer in the tiny town of Mandrake Falls, N.H. His simple, rewarding life is turned upside down when he inherits $40 billion and is swept off to New York City, where he finds himself the toast of the town and the target of the tabloids (Ah, the allure of alliteration). Chief among those is the sleazy TV show, "Inside Access," which dispatches reporter Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder) to wheedle her way into Deed's life and catch some scandalous footage on hidden camera.

Deeds and Babe end up a couple, of course, wheeling around New York while the young man's corporate financial advisor (Peter Gallagher) schemes to steal his newfound fortune. You know the rest - Deeds' reputation gets ruined, Babe is exposed as a fraud and the bad guy declares victory as a disillusioned Deeds returns home to lick his wounds. All is lost, it appears, until the inevitable moment arrives where small town values triumph over big city cynicism and everything wraps up perfectly.

The film is clunky. A number of scenes are lit too brightly and the editing is choppy. Cameo appearances by John McEnroe and the Rev. Al Sharpton seem forced and awkward. Even more awkward is Winona Ryder, who never manages to convey the dark side of her character. There is zero chemistry between her and Sandler. In fact, he appears more relaxed when she is off screen.

Several of the supporting actors are wasted, most notably Steve Buscemi, but John Turturro is absolutely wonderful as Emilio Lopez, a Spanish butler with a foot fetish and a knack for appearing and disappearing out of nowhere. Few of the fetish jokes work, but Turturro gets incredible mileage out of the other business, starting with the first time Emilio startles Deeds. When Deeds says, "Wow, you're kind of sneaky, aren't you?" Turturro straightens his posture, looks back at him with an insanely proud expression on his face and loudly proclaims, "Yes sir, I am a berry berry sneaky man!" His human cartoon performance is smarter than anything else in the film.

Since 1995, Adam Sandler has been cranking out stupid movies, with each making more money than the last (until "Little Nicky" crashed and burned). "Mr. Deeds" has Sandler adhering to formula, playing a lovable doofus with a violent streak, surrounded by a few prigs who are revolted by his childish behavior and lots of colorful goofballs who cheer him on. Ever loyal to his friends, Sandler packs his films with buddies from college and "Saturday Night Live," both in front of and behind the cameras. Accordingly, the movies have been sloppy as hell, the kind of slapped together affairs one would expect to emerge from a late night session at the frat house.

That, I believe, is the primary reason why my resistance to Adam Sandler's homemade movies has ebbed over the years. I like the notion of a guy reaching the big time and hauling all of his pals along with him. And I like Adam Sandler. Judging from his various TV talk show appearances, he appears to be just as sweet as his characters always turn out to be.

I once heard him tell a group of young people, "If you ever feel like you can't make it, think of me. I'm not particularly smart or talented, and yet I'm a multimillionaire!" I think I enjoyed "Mr. Deeds" because of the mentality behind that statement. Sandler is an extremely likable man who knows his limitations and works within them. "Mr. Deeds" takes place in a world built by Sandler, a sort of post-modern Mayberry where nice guys really do finish first and their friends all attend the never-ending victory party. Spending time in this world doesn't challenge my intellect, but it makes me feel happy for a little while.

There you have it. Artistically, "Mr. Deeds" is a mess, but I like it anyway because the limited skills of Adam Sandler connect with me on some odd emotional level. And with that I conclude the least rational film review I have ever written.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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