Mr. Deeds
review by Gregory Avery, 28 June 2002 

I almost walked out of the new Adam Sandler comedy, Mr. Deeds, during the scene where Sandler started throwing cats, seven of them, out of the window of a burning building -- there are some things you just don't sit still for. But, hey, he was trying to "save" them, and they all bounced and landed in funny places, and they turned out to be all right, even the last one, which was actually on-fire and burning when Sandler flung it into the void.

The comedian plays Longfellow Deeds, the character-in-name (though not manner) originally played by Gary Cooper back, in times gone past, in the 1936 Frank Capra movie. He runs a pizza parlor in a small, dainty New Hampshire town, helps old people cross the street, corrects bad language, is considerate towards ladies, and stops muggers by smashing them to the ground with a garbage can, then sitting on top of them and punching them in the face ten times. 

He inherits a multi-billion dollar empire and goes to New York City for the first time, where he insists on everybody calling him by his last name (it's more informal), and hugs people a lot. The venal, snobbish, and greedy New Yorkers for the most part laugh and jeer at him, and he has to punch some of them out, too, especially when they chortle over his greeting-card poetry -- it may be classic, but, as Deeds himself sez, er, says, it's "the best that he can do.

The movie wants us to believe that he's more genuine, sincere, and feeling as a person than the big city types. But the small town folks, who are also supposed to be more genuine, sincere, and feeling, are drawn as a gallery of grotesques, with fat guts, sloppy clothing, and missing teeth. (Steve Buscemi appears, hideously made-up, as a character named "Crazy Eyes, who orders pizza with pineapple and gumball topping, or something like that.) We're supposed to laugh at them, we're supposed to laugh at the venal New Yorkers -- and we're supposed to laugh at Deeds, too, when he does stuff like a doofus rendition of the song "Space Oddity" sung into a banana, or when he slides down a banister and crashes atop a table.

The filmmakers also believe that money is bad, but they put John McEnroe into the picture for a cameo, and in his first shot he holds a Heineken with the label pointing directly at the camera. (He and Deeds go out and egg passing cars!) Al Sharpton shows up to deliver a eulogy, in rhyme, after which Sandler's character does the same (to Sharpton's approval). And there's the aforementioned scene where Deeds rescues the purdy pusses, during which he throws off a compliment to N.Y.C. firefighters.

Sympathy is what you feel for Winona Ryder, who increasingly assumes the panicky look of someone who's trapped in an elevator for an indefinite period of time; she's hideously photographed throughout the picture, and her hair changes color at several points in the story, like a mood ring. She gets into a brawl with Conchata Ferrell, during which they slam kick each other and break furniture; then, she falls through the ice over a frozen pond -- and Sandler lets her drown. When this happened to Lew Ayres in Damien: Omen II, is was supposed to be scary. On top of that, Ryder plays a character who's compulsively dishonest, and the actress struggles to do scenes such as one where she makes up a recollection of falling out of a tree when she was a little girl and being rushed by her father to be treated by Dr. Pepper -- Deeds thinks Dr. Pepper is a physician, and she does nothing to dissuade him. Over dinner, Sandler leans towards her and says, "You're hair is very nice and blond." "My grandfather was in ABBA," Ryder stammers in reply.

Sandler's slow, halting, witless dialogue deliveries are supposed to make him appealing and good-hearted, but he looks more like a dolt than ever, and why should we be asked to identify with him? In addition, the movie wants us to alternately root for him and laugh at him, not with him. The movie doesn't think much of its characters, its protagonist, or of us. "Oh, please, please jump on my foot," he asks his Spanish butler (John Turturro, who gives the only thing approximating a respectable performance in this), peeling a sock off of an appendage blackened by frostbite. Oh, please.

Directed by:
Steven Brill

Adam Sandler
Winona Ryder
Peter Gallagher
Jared Harris
Conchata Ferrell
John Turturro

Written by:
Tim Herlihy

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for
children under 13.





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