Posted: Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Adam Sandler has hit the big time. He has transcended mere actor-doofus status. He is now a genre. There are enough "Adam Sandler" movies now that he could have his own section in Blockbuster. I'm not talking simply of the movies he's starred in; no, I'm also talking about the movies he's produced or inspired. The Corky Romanos or Deuce Bigalows owe as much to Sandler as anything he's headlined. The main indicator that our boy Adam has spawned a style all his own, however, is this: these movies are good or bad completely independent of Sandler's involvement. It's true. By the same token that you wouldn't say a western was good or bad just because it was a western, you can't really blame Sandler when one of his films tanks. He simply sets the scene and walks through the role exactly as he's done time and time again. The only problem is, the genre is already getting stale. There are only so many loveable-doofus-makes-good stories people will stand, and I'm afraid the saturation point may have been hit. Case in point: Mr. Deeds.

I wouldn't call Mr. Deeds worthless, exactly, but I'm sure not convinced it was worth the money we paid to get in. It's your basic Sandler formula. Slightly dopey, though incredibly friendly guy hits it big and then realizes that everything good in the world is back at home. Sandler plays Longfellow Deeds, or simply "Deeds" to his friends, which basically includes everyone he's ever met. When Deeds discovers he's inherited 40 billion dollars from an uncle he never knew he had, his small-town pizza restaurateur life is turned upside down and he's whisked off to the big city. But., lo and behold, Deeds discovers that people aren't as nice in the Big Apple as they are back in friendly Mammoth Falls. Though he is disillusioned that even the girl he loves could be using him for personal gain, it's up to Deeds to show these jaded and shallow city folk a better way to live.

Mr. Deeds is adapted from what must have been a much better movie, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, a 1936 Frank Capra film starring Gary Cooper. You might expect that good source material would yield good results, but you'd be wrong. This new version loses whatever heart or soul it might have inherited from it's predecessor through singularly terrible writing. The dialogue is ridiculous, and even Sandler's trademark wacky innocence seems forced. Instead of his little songs from SNL, this time around he writes greeting cards and tries to sell them to Hallmark. What should have been a really funny bit barely illicits a smile. The story itself is basic and sweet, and I'm sure the Gary Cooper version takes advantage of that. This version just takes advantage of the audiences willingness to swallow anything as long as it's got Adam Sandler.

This movie is indicative of the whole lowest-common-denominator attitude present in so many Hollywood comedies these days. It's like they just don't care anymore. Mr. Deeds is as predictable, poorly written and poorly acted as any movie I've seen in a while. How did it get past the first set of dailies? It did because producers figure it doesn't matter. People will watch anything. It's pretty insulting when you get right down to it. But, dumb as it is, I have to give the filmmakers credit for one thing; they don't stoop to the level of the Farrellys to get a laugh. Stupid, yes. Disgusting and offensive? Thankfully, no.

It's pretty sad when to compliment a movie the best you can come up with is to say that it could have been worse, but this film just doesn't have much to offer, with one exception. Jon Turturro plays an exceptionally sneaky Spanish butler, and really captures that sweet sort of wackiness that Sandler movies are known for. He really is funny, and had he been in the movie more, I might be giving it a higher grade. But then there's Winona Ryder who is inexplicably terrible, as is every other character, large or small, aside from Sandler. Sandler does a fine job, but as I said, he just basically plays the same exact character he plays in all his movies. Even Steve Buscemi, a Sandler regular, flops with his trademark weirdo bit character. It's just too bad.

Though Mr. Deeds may rest alongside Little Nicky in the annals of bad Sandler films, it's not likely kill the genre. Sandler has an animated movie coming out next year, and Chris Kattan and Rob Schnieder still have to make a living. Still, there may be hope for those of us that like Adam Sandler, but are getting tired of Adam Sandler movies. Paul Thomas Anderson, the genius behind Magnolia and Boogie Nights, cast Sandler in his latest, Punch Drunk Love, playing it serious this time. The buzz on his performance is very good, and one can only hope that he'll parlay that success into an expanding and maturing career instead of simply remaining the biggest fish in a rapidly stagnating little pond. Grade: D+

Mr. Deeds is rated PG-13 for mild language and comic violence.

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