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Mr. Deeds (2002)

2 stars2 stars

Adam Sandler is an awfully nice guy. This is simultaneously the source of his appeal and his undoing. His movies are frequently centered around low brow humor, offset by the sweet nature of his characters. For example, The Waterboy featured Sandler as a sweet but slow witted waterboy who turned out to be a one man wrecking crew on the football field. Big Daddy followed Sandler as a loudmouth who inherits a four year old kid and becomes nicer and more responsible. That combination of nice and obnoxious draws large diverse crowds to his movies. But over time the nice side of the equation has been growing, leaving less room for laughs.

Mr. Deeds represents the moment where Sandler goes too far with the nice, almost totally forgetting to make us laugh. The mere fact that he was remaking the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes To Town should have sounded a claxon alarm to his fans. In it he plays small town restauranteur Longfellow Deeds. He suddenly discovers that he had a rich uncle ho has died, leaving Deeds $40 billion. He is brought to New York by the men now running his uncle's media empire. There they seek to get Deeds out of the loop by buying out his uncle's shares of the company.

Deeds is a wholesome small town guy who is none too impressed with the way things ar done in the big city. This leads to numerous confrontations that all end with Deeds beating the snot out of someone. This should be the part of the movie for the trademark Sandler obnoxious humor. What we get is some pointless violence that not only fails to get laughs but also undermines his character's supposed wholesomeness.

Along for the ride is Winona Ryder as a producer for a sleazy news show who poses as a small town school nurse to get close to the new billionare. Naturally, in spite of herself, she falls for Deeds and feels bad about what she's doing to him. Yeah, there's an original idea.

I've enjoyed most of Sandler's films so I came to this one with high hopes. In short, it was hugely disappointing. The crude humor that makes most of his movies such guilty pleasures is almost entirely missing. At best I chuckled a few times. In the past his films made me laugh long and hard. The Deeds character is so sweet a guy he is nearly impossible to believe as real. He actually makes the charicature New York society types seem well rounded in comparison.

Possibly the oddest thing about this film, ignoring Sandler's softening, as we could see that coming, was the film's awful editing. Through much of the first half of the movie I had the feeling that I had just missed something. For instance, we see Deeds' helicopter land on his skyscraper roof. The next thing we know he's walking around his new apartment, playing with the echo (a painfully over played joke) and chatting with the staff as if he knew them. It's like we missed a step somewhere.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is John Turturro as Deeds' butler. Although criminally underused, Turturro provides much of the desperately needed humor. Of course, muting his effectiveness is a running gag about how sneaky quiet he is, that is poorly set up and then beaten to death.

The film's success at the box office indicates Sandler still has legions of fans. What remains to be seen is how many of them will turn out for his next film. If he's unwilling to continue with the humor that made him star, he'd better move into drama and attract new fans because his career will be heading for a dead end with more films like this one.

- John Shea

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Mr. Deeds
Directed by:
Steven Brill
Written by:
Tim Herlihy
Clarence Budington Kelland
Robert Riskin
Adam Sandler
Winona Ryder
John Turturro
Steve Buscemi
Jared Harris
Peter Gallagher
Allen Covert
Conchata Ferrell