Director: Steven Brill
Cast: Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder, John Turturro, Peter Gallagher, Erick Avari, Allen Covert, Conchata Ferrell, Jared Harris, Steve Buscemi
MPAA Rating: (for language including sexual references, and some rear nudity)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 6/28/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
The appeal of Adam Sandler escapes me. Even while viewing his most recent movie Mr. Deeds, which I almost find myself tempted to recommend, I discover that my standards are lowered to a desperate level: to be surprised by an Adam Sandler movie, I simply must not despise it. Feeling indifferent about a movie featuring Adam Sandler is an experience almost as surprising as my enjoyment of The Wedding Singer. Strangely enough, the thing both Mr. Deeds and The Wedding Singer have in common is a kinder, gentler Sandler who doesn’t openly mock the nature of such a persona (which was one of the countless problems with The Waterboy, another movie to contain a more innocent Sandler (the fact that the character was mentally challenged reminds me yet again of my reasoning for the general dismissal of the comedian)). The benevolence doesn’t come out of left field, either, as was true of the climactic plot turns in Big Daddy. No, there’s a sense of genuine, naive good will accompanying the material that almost, but not quite, makes up for the far more than occasional lapses of successful comedy.
When a major media mogul dies trying (and succeeding) to climb a mountain, control of his company is left in the heir as his subordinates scramble to find his heir. The search leads them to Longfellow Deeds (Sandler), a small-town pizza restaurant owner and long-lost nephew of the tycoon whose life consists of being exceedingly nice to people and writing poetically crude greeting cards with the hopes of one day getting published. Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher) and Cecil Anderson (Erick Avari), two of the magnate’s top men, go to tell Deeds the news and take him back to New York to sell his shares to Cedar for forty billion dollars. The mystery of the secret heir is a strong story, particularly for a tabloid TV show where Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder) is slowly moving down the reliability ladder. To catch a break, she takes the initiative to disguise herself as Pam Dawson, a school nurse from Westchestertonfieldville, Iowa, and rig a mugging for Deeds to save her from. From there on, she’ll be able to record Deeds on the town for an exclusive story.
Taking its premise from the 1936 Frank Capra film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, this Deeds is a screwball comedy with some romantic undertones. The comedy is essentially hit and miss with many gags simply leaving us shaking our heads in confusion of how they’re supposed to be funny and who thought they would be. Perhaps Sandler and his moviemaking buddies have been around each other too long and are content tossing in a series of inside jokes that only they will get, and maybe they have yet to learn that when making a movie for the general public such ideas don’t work. On the whole, though, most of the jokes are amusing and, unlike so much of other Sandler fare, harmless and without ill will. I enjoyed particularly a scene in which Deeds surprises "Pam" by taking her to the real Westchestertonfieldville and showing her the exact house she described in her childhood memories (if the house isn’t the same suburban abode as the Burnhams’ in American Beauty, it sure looks like it). Another has Deeds saving a woman and her many cats by tossing them out the window of a burning apartment. It’s all in good, clean fun, and it works better than it should as a result.
The performances are, on one level, all over the place, but on another, they work with this material. Sandler works best when driven to depression and downheartedness and the last third of the movie gives him plenty of time to do that. Beforehand, he shows again that he still hasn’t caught on to the acting thing and is only a bit better at the comedian thing. He says his lines with an insincerity that defeats them and almost always puts on a voice, as if that will make everything he says funny. Note the lack of comedic timing when Deeds is stabbed in the frostbitten foot with a fireplace tool—he drops the act in his face before he drops it in his voice. Winona Ryder plays the love interest and so only works with her charisma, which, fortunately for her, is good. Peter Gallagher plays the bad guy with a rich, condescending air typical of Peter Gallagher. A few Sandler regulars appear, and Steve Buscemi stands out among them by being Steve Buscemi playing a creepy role. The only true standout is John Turturro who plays Deeds’ stealthy servant Emilio.
If Mr. Deeds plays conventionally, consider it a blessing and a step up from Sandler. Fans may be turned off by the fact that Sandler doesn’t play a misanthrope, and those who wouldn’t be caught dead inside a theater playing an Adam Sandler movie still won’t be caught dead inside a theater playing an Adam Sandler movie. I’m surprised I was entertained to an even minuscule degree, but I must admit that Deeds is better than almost every other Sandler movie—even if that’s not saying much.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.