THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


What was Adam Sandler thinking when he chose to remake the Frank Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town? Did he really fancy himself a modern-day Gary Cooper? The comedian's unlikely choice of source material is certainly jarring, especially when you consider that he has made a career playing the most irritating characters he can invent. The new, more efficiently-titled Mr. Deeds finds Sandler in a romantic mode, a la The Wedding Singer, which is at least somewhat mitigating. Had he desecrated a classic by doing that annoying Waterboy shtick, a legion of film buffs might have hunted him down to open up a six pack of whoop ass.

But let's back up. Despite the inspiration, I didn't really expect an Adam Sandler movie to be Capraesque. All I hoped for was that it would be as painless as possible. I, like most film critics, have not particularly admired Sandler's work. Not because of some critical sense of superiority, mind you. I have not been a fan simply because his movies have not made me laugh. The one Sandler picture I did enjoy, Little Nicky, was the only one that tanked with his handcore fans.

In the new movie, Sandler plays Longfellow Deeds, a pizza shop owner/greeting card writer from a small, small town. It is discovered that he is the closest living heir to a deceased media tycoon. Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher), who heads up the corporation's board of directors, brings Deeds to Manhattan with the news that he has inherited $40 billion. What Deeds doesn't know is that Ceder plans to dupe him out of his shares in the company so that it can be dissembled and sold in pieces.

Winona Ryder falls for newly rich Adam Sandler in Mr. Deeds
Meanwhile, a tabloid TV reporter named Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder) pretends to be a damsel-in-distress so she can date Deeds and use him as fodder for her show. Eventually, Babe is won over by his genuine good-heartedness. She falls for him but, of course, her betrayal threatens to ruin everything. Deeds is oblivious to the fact that all these people want to use and abuse him. The only person he can really trust is his butler Emilio (John Turturro), who has a strange fetish for feet.

Rather than going into a lengthy analysis of Mr. Deeds, I'm going to break it down simply. I laughed once, and it was a big laugh (a representative from the United Negro College Fund nearly has a heart attack when he opens a hefty donation check from Deeds). There were a couple of times when I chuckled mildly. The rest of the time was spent in silence. There just isn't much funny going on here. That's all there is to it.

To be fair, this is far from Sandler's worst movie. Although I didn't like it and don't recommend it, I found this one much less painful to sit through than most of his other pictures. There are no silly accents, or overly abundant sexual/bodily fluid references, or attempts to earn laughs from the exaggerated idiocy of the characters. Instead, we just get a familiar romantic comedy that coasts along on autopilot. Films like Big Daddy and The Waterboy aggravated me by being actively obnoxious; Mr. Deeds is merely bland.

At least I was sparred the task of enduring another of the comedian's nails-on-blackboard performances. I think Sandler does have some talent, but he needs to take some risks for me to ever really get on board as a fan. Perhaps that will change. Later this year, he stars in the new film from Magnolia director Paul Thomas Anderson, which is titled Punch-Drunk Love. The picture premiered at Cannes this year to strong acclaim. That is the Adam Sandler movie I'll be waiting for.

( out of four)

Mr. Deeds is rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, and some rear nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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