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Mr. Deeds

Mr. Deeds (2002) star

Reviewed 2001-07-05
: A simple, straightforward, small-town guy inherits a fortune and 49% of a huge corporation and goes to the big city to claim it -- or have his claim wrested from him by greedy big-city types. That's the simple plot to the simple film, Mr. Deeds, chosen, heaven knows why, as a vehicle for the moderately amusing Adam Sandler, who takes the title role. The plot is based on the 1936 Frank Capra film, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, in which Gary Cooper, a much funnier and more nuanced actor, held the title role. Longfellow Deeds is able to best the big-city types (I've lived in several big cities and I assure you these types exist only in movies), but meets his match when he falls for 'Babe' Bennett (Winona Ryder, searching for a character), a reporter posing as Pam Dawson to get the inside story on this nouveau riche. Of course, when she finds out how "genuine" this small-town guy is, she falls in love with him. If only the movie itself were more genuine.

The female-reporter-falls-for-genuine-guy device I've seen before, and done better: my personal favorite is The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). And if you want an alternative perspective on what "genuine" small-town people can be like, check out The Advocate (1993). What I really found distressing in Mr. Deeds was the meanness in what was supposed to be comedy. It started with Deeds' frostbitten right foot: in his new mansion he displays it to the butler, Emilio (a truly funny John Turturro, a butler with a foot fetish, by the way). Deeds says the foot has no feeling -- try it. Emilio stomps it. Nothing. He takes a fireplace poker and whacks it. Nothing. He impales it. Deeds screams... but, no, he was just joking; he felt nothing. I was cringing. This was funny?

Deeds is a gentle, honest, simple guy who doesn't mind punching out a football player who wants more money, or upper-crust types who make fun of him at a fine restaurant, or severely beating a (phony) mugger to rescue Babe/Pam. For fun he gets drunk and throws eggs at cars, "egged on," so to speak, by John McEnroe. Oh, but he rescues a huge woman from an upper-story building fire (don't worry, he's with the Mandrake Falls Fire Department). This he does after tossing out the window, one by one, her seven cats, one of which is on fire itself. Maybe it's because I am owned by a cat myself, but I didn't find this very funny, either.

Mr. Deeds is not without merit. I've already mentioned Turturro as Emilio, the "sneaky" butler Deeds inherited from the uncle (Harve Presnell). The uncle died atop Mt. Everest -- somebody find out what kind of helicopter can fly at 29,000 feet, please! Although her fight scene with Babe/Pam was ridiculous rather than funny, I enjoyed the Mandrake Falls pizzeria waitress played by Conchata Ferrell. Crazy Eyes, a small role in Mandrake Falls played by Steve Buscemi, allows him to exercise only a smidgen of his truly inspired weirdness. Director Steven Brill has acted with Sandler before (most recently in Big Daddy, 1999 and The Wedding Singer), 1998, so perhaps he didn't feel he could say no to his star's "gross" excesses. I admit, there were moments of fun -- my companion enjoyed Mr. Deeds more than I did -- but I came out of the theatre grateful I had paid the bargain matinee price.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.