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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 Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4

The U.S. has urban centers that house a large minority of its population some being people who (like Woody Allen) feel "choked" when they come into contact with trees. Another large fraction live in the suburbs, those who may have grown up in the big cities but think that the good life can be found within striking distance of metropolitan entertainments as long as you don't have to live there. Small towns are now considered the repository of an aging population; those who have always lived there and never thought of going anywhere else or even of traveling more than fifteen miles from the town church. Yet as shown by Steven Brill's "Mr. Deeds," there is much to admire in the sticks. Those who populate Small Town USA are nicer, free of greed, and if they wind up in jail it's only for the night. Such was the domain of the title character played by Gary Cooper in Frank Capra's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," about a fellow who inherits $20 million and wants to give it all away to needy people. That 1936 version, based on the story "Opera Hat" by Clarence Budington Kelland, garnered all four stars in Maltin's annual movie and video guide. Corny though it may be, the classic film scores largely because of the emotional tugs of a reporter (played by Jean Arthur) who sincerely wants to find out what makes such a selfless fellow tick.

Few people would grant the big four to the current pic although one online critic notes that the guy sitting in front of him in the theater "almost peed in his pants with laughter." I'd add that the guy sitting a few seats from me hit the floor with his feet so many times I thought he was rehearsing for the off- Broadway hit "Stomp." Nonetheless to downgrade "Mr. Deeds" simply because it does not live up to its source material might be considered mean-spirited, particularly since we should not consider Sandler's saga as one competing with Capra's.

Filled with one-liners by one of the old masters of stand-up comedy, "Mr. Deeds" was obviously made with Adam Sandler in mind and no one else. The thirty-six year old comic (born in Brooklyn I'm proud to say) seems not to have aged since his appearance in "Billy Madison" seven years ago, nor does his humor appear to be maturing which may be to the good, because comics, Robin Williams and Woody Allen as examples, have hardly come across consistently when playing against type. Sandler is the sort of guy who can make us smile simply by his look of blank-faced innocence, and who best to play the man who holds the deed to naivete than he?

Portraying someone whose body's only harmful bone is its penchant for punching out punks both white-collar and those of the mugger variety Sandler is Longfellow Deeds who, typically enough hates his first name and any title, preferring to be called simply Deeds by friends and strangers alike. The owner and chief delivery man of the pizza shop which is the social center of Mandrake Falls, New Hampshire (filmed in New Milford, Connecticut), Deeds learns that he has inherited $40 billion from a Rupert Murdock-like owner of a communications chain, is taken by chopper to New York by a top company exec (Peter Gallagher), and made the punching bag of a slimy TV news anchor (Jared Harris) who sends reporter Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder) to learn more about him.

Enjoying his huge new town house, he nevertheless insists on equality with his admittedly sneaky butler, Emilio (John Turturro) but has his reputation ruined by the tabloid anchorman using edited footage to turn heroic acts into sleazy deeds. Sentimentality abounds in the relationship of Deeds with Babe, the latter realizing what a scuzz she really is to try to ruin the rep of the nicest guy she's ever met.

The movie has some unnecessary, even embarrassing sequences involving caustic tennis pro John McEnroe and would-be presidential candidate Al Sharpton the latter seeming to compete with Deeds for the title of corniest writer of Hallmark- style poetry. Steve Buscemi checks in now and then as "Crazy- Eyes," a pug-eyed village idiot whose idea of driving an expensive Corvette is to ram it into a tree, smile, and say, "I'm OK!"

Despite cheap editing which would befit a stand-up comic waiting for the sound track to come in each time he cracks one, the movie is watchable thanks to (rather than despite) a one- joke Sandler who is as charming as he was in "The Wedding Singer" and who gets his predictable comeuppance at the annual stockholders' meeting as the proverbial one-share renegade who in minutes converts a roomful of greedy tycoons into a bunch of emotional children who agree to a person that none at the age of eight ever said, "Hey, mom, when I grow up I want to be an investment banker."

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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