"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
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
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