One thing which I find odd on Adam Sandler’s otherwise neat homepage (www.adamsandler.com) is the absence of coverage for “Punch-Drunk Love”, the upcoming Sandler flick which earned filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson the Best Director prize at Cannes. I’ve unfortunately not seen it yet, but there’s no way it’s as trite, derivative and forgettable as this here “Mr. Deeds”, which has only the merit of playing directly at Sandler’s fanbase.
The great Sandoo might be playing a dude named Longfellow Deeds this time, but he could as well be playing himself, or more accurately the good-hearted but occasionally violent man-child he plays in every movie. Deeds owns a pizza place in Mandrake Falls, New Hampshire (“Where no trouble befalls, and the scenery enthralls”) and works as a voluntary fireman, but his dream job is writing “poetry” for Hallmark greeting cards. He’s thrown into quite another dream when he learns that he’s the sole heir of the $40 billion fortune of the media tycoon uncle he never knew!
So he’s brought to big crazy New York by the number two man (Peter Gallagher) of his late uncle’s company, who’s really looking to screw him over, and we’re in for yet another fish-out-water movie about the poor schlob who enters the world of the rich and powerful. There’s really nothing we’ve never seen before in the movie, and not just because it’s a (loose) remake of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”. In fact, the phony, overdone small-town values cheer staged here recalls less genuine Capra than mediocre knockoffs like “The Majestic”.
Most damning is that this is all wrong for Sandler, who strives not in the nice and homely but in the offbeat and juvenile. There are sparks of that here and there, like when Deeds leads a hearty rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” or when he saves a lady’s kitties from a fire (that you have to see!). But for the most part, the movie sags from long, weighty story advancing scenes played appallingly straight. Do we really care what happens to the company Deeds inherited? And what to make of Winona Ryder’s surprisingly extended part in the movie?
Sandler did try his hand at the romantic comedy genre before (in “The Wedding Singer”, arguably his best movie to date), but Ryder is no Drew Barrymore and the contrived plot she has to work with is not helping. She plays a tabloid TV producer who goes undercover as a virginal small town school nurse to seduce Deeds and get the dirt on the new billionaire. We know from the start that a) there’s gonna be a teary confession by Ryder, b) Deeds will walk out on her and big city life, disillusioned and broken-hearted, and that, c), of course, they’re gonna realise that their love is true and everything will be swell. That makes for a pretty dull storyline, and the absence of chemistry between the leads makes it even less involving.
Still, the movie is watchable enough and for every gag that falls dead flat (Sandler’s bursts of violent agression are growing tired), there is another that’ll jerk a chuckle or a guffaw out of you. This is mostly thanks to the choice supporting players, like Steve Buscemi’s Crazy Eyes, John Turturro’s sneaky Spanish butler, Allen Covert as a loser tabloid reporter and Erick Avari as Gallagher’s bearded accomplice who has trouble not rooting for Deeds. So “Mr. Deeds” did make me laugh a bunch of times, which is the point I guess, but I can’t recommend it except to die-hard Sandler fans, and even they will have to admit that this is one of his lesser efforts.