Adam Sandler was kicked down hard with his last outing, the uproarious, but globally despised 2000 satanic comedy "Little Nicky." Critics complained that the nice guy act that Sandler has made a fortune with was missing. Well, be careful what you wish for, because Sandler's new film "Mr. Deeds" (IMDb listing) has him playing the nicest guy in the world! Though this reeks of playing it safe, there is still nothing quite like an Adam Sandler comedy, and "Mr. Deeds" will have fans rolling in the aisles laughing at all the off-kilter jokes, appearances from Sandler regulars, and returning to the formula that made "The Wedding Singer" a breakthrough hit for the actor.
When his rich uncle dies and leaves him control of his $40 billion entertainment empire, the world changes for Longfellow Deeds (Adam Sandler). A small town New Hampshire guy who runs a pizza parlor and, in his spare time, tries to sell his cards to Hallmark, he is now confronted with a Spanish butler (John Turturro), a huge luxury apartment with all the amenities, money beyond his wildest dreams, and a scheming employee of the corporation (Peter Gallagher) who wants to wrest control of the empire away from Deeds. To get the story for her newsmagazine TV show, reporter Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder) goes undercover and strikes up a relationship with Deeds. When that relationship turns to true love, Babe must try to stop her evil boss (Jared Harris) from ruining Deeds's good name in the eyes of the public.
Now I'm not going to sit here and try to suggest that "Mr. Deeds" is brave new ground for Sandler. It sure isn't. It's an easy-bake-oven creation meant to win back the faithful that took a right turn at "Little Nicky." What's worked for Sandler before is him playing the lovable goofy guy you just want to hang out with. "Mr. Deeds" takes this persona and transports him to the land of high society, where lovable goofy guys do honorable things with money, treat their employees with respect, and always get the babe (this time literally). Seeing how "Mr. Deeds" is already a loose remake of the Gary Cooper-starring, Frank Capra-directed "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town," any argument over lack of originality could be easily won.
But that would ruin the enjoyment. "Mr. Deeds" is as agreeable, madcap, and fall-down funny as all the other Sandler films. The sticky sweetness pumped into the project only enhances the experience. All the wonderful lunacy is back: Peter Dante's ("Big Daddy," "The Waterboy," "Little Nicky") bizarre small town wacko with a taste for instant messaging on other people's accounts; Deeds's crazy night on the town with a troublemaking John McEnroe; pot-shots at the "New Yorker" magazine (amen); a movie-highlight cat rescue from a burning apartment building that results in kittens being caught by birthday cakes, sewer repairmen, and even dogs; and Steve Buscemi appearing as a man called "Crazy Eyes" (it must have hurt to wear those eyepieces, Mr. Buscemi). Written by Sandler's regular cohort, and inventive madman, Tim Herlihy, "Mr. Deeds" is as berserk as any Sandler opus, only now the laughs come between attempts at character and emotional reverberation. Not bad attempts either, but "Mr. Deeds" does make one crucial mistake.
The mistake is Sandler himself. While always a warm, kind performer, Sandler has at least allowed himself some defining character traits in his previous films, whether it be Happy Gilmore's anger management, Sonny Koufax's loopy parenting skills ("Big Daddy"), or Nicky's, well...ancestry (he was the son of the Devil after all). "Mr. Deeds" has Sandler as a saint, and there's no hope for anything more complex than that. Deeds is the type of guy that will help anyone out, never gets angry, and will always be the first to forgive. Sandler plays this character like a lump of Silly Putty, forgoing almost any movement just so he can be liked by the maximum number of people. It's a shame really, as Sandler is at his best when trying something different, but whatever his performance lacks in "Deeds," he makes up for by delivering his fair share of the laughs.
Besides, you've never seen an opera singer get his ass kicked as perfectly as when Deeds does it, trust me.
But the person who does manage to steal "Mr. Deeds" away from Deeds himself is Turturro as the Spanish butler Emilio. The angle on the character is that he's sneaky, always appearing when you need him and disappearing an eye-blink later. It's a marvelous, humane character that revels in speed and absurdity (he's also a foot fetishist), and is played with full conviction by Turturro. The actor also stole "The Big Lebowski" away from the Coen Brothers, so he knows a thing or two about grand theft movie. Also a surprise, though more in a thank-God-she-survived-this way, is Winona Ryder. She's really no comedienne, but her scenes with Sandler are honest, and occasionally funny. Ryder is trying hard, and that's half the battle. But without Sandler at her side, or Herlihy's lunacy to play with, Ryder would be lost at sea.
For those who curled up in the fetal position after watching "Little Nicky," you can come back out now. "Mr. Deeds" is big, harmless fun that restores the luster to Adam Sandler's crown. You'll laugh, hard too, and in this world, why would you want to turn down an opportunity like that?
Filmfodder Grade: A-