Mr. Deeds is funnyman Adam Sandler's modern adaptation of Frank Capra's 1936 classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town starring Gary Cooper. This time, Mr. Deeds heads to Manhattan and finds himself besieged by opportunists all gunning for their piece of his $40 billion inheritance.
Longfellow Deeds (played by Adam Sandler) is the owner of a popular pizzeria in the small town of Mandrake Falls, N.H. He is a seemingly happy and well-adjusted guy whose main pastime involves writing greeting cards he hopes will one day be published by a big conglomerate like Hallmark. His enchanting life all but comes to a halt, however, when a corporate honcho named Anderson (Peter Gallagher) informs Deeds that his long lost relative, Preston Blake, has left him an inheritance of $40 billion, a chain of media outlets, a football team and a basketball team. Deeds heads to Manhattan to collect his endowment, which includes a Diff'rent Strokes-style Park Avenue penthouse, and befriends his late uncle's butler, Emilio (John Turturro). When Deeds falls for tabloid TV producer Babe Bennett (played by Winona Ryder), who is posing as a demure school nurse, he inevitably gets his heart broken and realizes that a 200-mile-an-hour lifestyle isn't for him. Mr. Deeds is a middle-of-the-road movie with a couple of good laughs, most of which don't come from Sandler.
Sandler's portrayal of Deeds is peculiar. You would expect this small-town guy to have the same qualities that Gary Cooper had in the 1936 version, but Sandler's depiction is dimwitted rather than polite, and his character has a disturbing violent streak. His seems to channel his inadequacies into landing his fist in people's faces. But Sandler's character is not only mean tempered, he's humorless, too. Ryder (Autumn in New York) cunning Babe Bennett, on the other hand, did have a timeless quality, and it is nice to see her acting goofy for a change. The script didn't call on her to say too much, unfortunately, and her character ends up being a caricature of a 1930s career woman. Surprisingly, Turturro's (Collateral Damage) character, the loyal butler with a strange habit of appearing and disappearing from a room, generates the most laughs. Watch for cameo appearances by Sandler's buddy Rob Schneider and another by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Director Steven Brill, who also directed Sandler in Little Nicky, delivers a relatively flat and uninspiring New York City: in the scene where Babe and her coworker fake a mugging, for example, the street appears deserted rather than bustling. To make matters worse, the bland visuals are littered with clichéd fish-out-of-water situations, including Deeds' fascination with the huge apartment's acoustics and its vast housekeeping staff. The most disturbing aspect of the film is that after deciding that happiness is more important than money, Deeds doesn't do anything worthwhile with the dough. OK, he does give it all the United Negro College Fund, but a gigantic plot hole seems to indicate that the organization will have to send it back. The point is Deeds never tries to do the right thing with the money; he just wants to wash his hands of it.
Mr. Deeds is not that bad a film, but audiences expecting an uproarious Adam Sandler comedy may be disappointed in this sweet but irreverent movie. Sadly, Sandler is the least funny thing about this film, and the best moments are in the trailer.