Mr. Deeds

on June 28, 2002 by Christine James
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   No good "Deeds" goes unpunished as Frank Capra's 1936 classic "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is bashed senseless by Adam Sandler's particular brand of classless bombast. And that's coming from the one reviewer in the world who gave both "Waterboy" and "Little Nicky" three-and-a-half stars. While those films had their share of lame gags and cacophonous idiocy, they also boasted some rollickingly clever oblique humor. "Mr. Deeds" has none of the latter and nothing but the former. Most detrimentally, the big, warm, goofy heart of the "Saturday Night Live" alum's previous films here is sub-Grinchian.

   Sandler foists himself into the role of Longfellow Deeds, an unassuming small-town denizen with aspirations no greater than to become a greeting card poet. When a long-lost uncle dies and leaves him his corporate empire and accompanying fortune, Deeds has remarkably little interest in his windfall, but is nevertheless jetted to New York by the conglomerate's top exec, the oily Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher), who plans to wrest the company from the presumed rube. However, Deeds proves to be as savvy as he is kind-hearted and unmaterialistic.

   Yes, Sandler is actually playing someone with some smarts, foregoing the quavery baby talk and man-child moronicism of his default on-screen persona. But in exchange for Sandler playing the straight man, every other character has been written to levels of cartoonishness (and spirit-gummed with weird beards, perms and eyebrows to match) that exceed burlesque to the point of grotesquerie.

   Babe Bennett, an undercover reporter assigned to get the scoop on insta-mogul Deeds and set him up for embarrassing photo ops but instead falls in love with him, is the only other protagonist who could pass as a real human being, though, as rendered by Winona Ryder, she's a human being who's singularly uninteresting and unlikable, not to mention unconvincing as a big-city journalist. Floundering for a cover identity, despite ample time to prepare, Babe graspingly dubs herself "Pammy Dawson" after the "Mork and Mindy" actress, an inanely overt allusion (with many more to follow) that Deeds should certainly have picked up on given his repeated if pointless references to '80s pop culture.

   With zero kelvin chemistry (that would be negative 273 degrees celsius) between the romantic leads and only a slightly higher number of laughs, this film is among the graver mis"Deeds" of remake history. Starring Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder, John Turturro, Peter Gallagher and Jared Harris. Directed by Steven Brill. Written by Tim Herlihy. Produced by Sid Ganis and Jack Giarraputo. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some rear nudity. Running time: 96 min

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