Mr. Deeds

(2002) * Pg-13
96 min. Columbia; New Line. Director: Steven Brill. Cast: Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder, Peter Gallagher, Jared Harris, John Turturro.

Since Hollywood has already made Brewster's Millions about six times, Columbia Pictures decided to plunder its vaults for a fresher (but still proven) rags-to-riches premise for comedy star Adam Sandler. Behold Mr. Deeds, a modern, mutant offspring of Frank Capra's 1936 comedy classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. And the film fans said, "It is not good."

But film fans hardly make up Sandler's target audience, who take turgid scripts and plodding direction for granted. Surely, they will find the star's happy-sack antics--once subversively entertaining, now lazy and tiresome--exactly as charming as I didn't. One typically galling scene has the exceptionally relaxed star polishing off a meal from a very prominently plugged fast-food chain. As he sings the fast food's praises, its easy to see the implied kinship of craftsmanship and nutritional value the food and film share.

Nominally following Capra's original, Mr. Deeds begins by offing the great uncle of beloved small-town pizzeria proprietor Longfellow Deeds (Sandler), making the youngish aspiring greeting card scribe an indifferent billionaire. Naturally, everyone in the big city (where he must take care of business) secretly plots to exploit him, including tabloid TV reporter Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder). While digging for dirt, she--err--steals Deeds's heart.

Director Steven Brill seems to have hung out a sign saying "OVERACTORS WELCOME!" because we get the usual Sandler parade of self-consciously wacky characters who lack any genuine character. The pain is mitigated somewhat by the celebrity actors delicately placed--perhaps by a comedy fung shui artist--throughout the film. Sandler buddies Steve Buscemi (as a cock-eyed, backwoodsy, Jack Elam type) and Rob Schneider crop up, among others. The most valuable player is John Turturro as Deeds's creepy Spanish valet; in a de facto reprise of his Jesus from The Big Lebowski, Turturro wrings laughs from lines like "I fear you are underestimating my sneakiness, sir." Meanwhile, wide-eyed Winona stakes out a moderately becoming middle ground between embarrassing excess and mere overacting.

This is post-Forrest Gump Hollywood's idea of Capra, with an unassuming idiot teaching the rest of us squares to be better people, cut loose and whatnot. But Sandler's belabored "just folks" persona sleepwalks through a fantasy world which belies any real-world message (the hero is as cruel as he's kind). I'd settle for funny, but Deeds offers little more than interminable low humor in its cultural rape of a humanist classic.

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