Don't let the fancy clothes fool you.
Mr. Deeds, the latest Adam Sandler comedy, frustrates many of the expectations people might bring with them to the viewing. If you are expecting a faithful remake of the original Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, you will be disappointed. If you are expecting crazy, bull-headed, childish antics from Sandler, you will also be disappointed. If you are expecting uproarious laughs, you won't find those either, at least not like you've seen in the past. But if you can get past those preconceptions and just watch, you will probably find something here to like. Mr. Deeds shows a subtler, downplayed Adam Sandler. The movie has some unexpected twists that are good for laughs. And though Mr. Deeds suffers from flat filmmaking syndrome, it does have more warmth, character and subtlety than many of Adam's former vehicles.
Facts of the Case
Preston Blake dies atop Mount Everest, leaving 40 billion smackers to small-town kid Longfellow Deeds (Adam Sandler). He travels to New York to finalize the stock transfer and turn the company over to Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher), Blake's #2. But before you know it, Deeds is flying in Chuck's ointment as he carouses with the staff, goes out on the town, and makes tabloid headlines.
Making the tabloids is easy since Deeds' new gal Babe (Winona Ryder) is actually an undercover tabloid producer. Deeds struggles to maintain equilibrium in spite of the harsh town, conniving power plays, and poor manners around him. He falls for Babe hard, but you know it won't be that easy. Meanwhile, Chuck goes about ruining Blake's corporation. Adam stays true to his small-town ethics, showing people a thing or two in the process, I'll tell you that much.
Let the prosecution get to the heart of the matter: is Mr. Deeds funny? Well, yes, but not like you'd expect. Though Adam does get in fisticuffs many a time, this isn't a viscerally funny film. The humor is warmer, less frantic, and thus might disappoint fans of his earlier work. Much of the humor needs time to coalesce in your brain, simmer, and come back to you later. I fear you are underestimating the sneakiness, sir.
I watched it over a week ago, and I still find myself repeating lines from Mr. Deeds. Sneaky, sneaky sir. Many of the scenes that are meant to be funny are. I watched it with my 16-year-old friend, and we laughed out loud many times. In one scene, Deeds rescues seven cats from a fire by throwing them onto one of those elastic circles held by firemen. (What is that thing called anyway?) Being light, the cats bounce right off, and the results are amusing. In other scenes, Adam gets his presumably staid staff to indulge in singing, yelling, and other antics. These are really funny moments.
Unfortunately a healthy dose of gags that are meant to be funny simply are not. This is where the flat filmmaking I alluded to earlier comes into play. I derived great amusement from some of Adam's comedy audio recordings. In this movie he writes greeting cards, and they are obviously supposed to be funny like his old stuff, but they are not. Later the writer admits he spent about 30 seconds on the cards. It shows.
Another angle that fails is the mistreatment of Allen Covert, the fellow tabloid producer in love with Babe. They made him gain 40 pounds, gave him a bad wig, and made him soap up his own ass on camera. I felt nothing more than pity for Covert. There was no reason to put him through such disrespectful machinations. It did not serve the script, his character, or the humor of the film at all. In fact, they almost killed him during the filming of the movie: his head hit pavement and "conked" like a coconut. When you hear that sound in the movies, it is usually due to foley effects. But this was as real as the New York pavement he nearly spewed his brains onto. He was so charming as Adam's friend in The Wedding Singer, why couldn't they make him a lean tabloid producer with good hair?
The gags eventually taper off, and we are left with a tepid, tired love story. Adam is pretty charming, and Winona is classically winsome, but they don't achieve nearly the same chemistry as Sandler and Barrymore mustered in The Wedding Singer. Their acting is okay…but okay acting combined with so-so story make for some forgettable viewing moments. As a romance, this one does not stack up to The Wedding Singer at all. Winona is trying to act opportunistic, bumbling, guilty and finally transformed, but the whole shenanigan is lukewarm. I hate to say it, but her scenes drag.
The transfer was very soft throughout, at times distractingly so. There was quite a bit of grain, though no really bad digital or celluloid artifacts marred the presentation. The colors weren't super-vibrant (red in particular) but the palette was pleasing and rich.
The stunt work was half-hearted. Some of the fights are just generic, and the film smacks of unprofessionalism at many points. When the photographer leaps of the roof and his parachute opens, it is not convincing. The wire stunts with the cats were great though.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So what's to like? Plenty. The defense would like to call several character witnesses.
First, Adam Sandler. He plays it calm, likeable, and pretty low key. No mindless yelling here, no blind bull rushes. He is warm and engaging, and I think he could pull a Hanksesque shift from comedy to drama. Punch Drunk Love, anyone?
Next, the supporting cast. They are well-cast and serve as the primary humor providers. Erick Avari provides subtle, quiet humor just with his expressions and demeanor. Gallagher's annoyance as the dark straight man works. Buscemi shows up with one of his classically odd performances. John Turturro steals every scene he is in. The elevator guy (J.B. Smoove) is good for two laughs, and John McEnroe enters the movie at an odd moment to provide laughs as well. These are the people that make it a comedy, not just Adam himself.
Teddy Castellucci created a beautiful, mood-lifting score. The music was simply great in Mr. Deeds. It had a classic, sweeping feel and drew me in even when the action onscreen was unengaging. Some pieces get repetitive, like Sandler's use of the word "wicked," but really a nice score.
The writer and director provide interesting banter that reveals a lot of the thinking behind the movie's creation. It is interesting to hear how they made some of their decisions and got around some challenges. They seem comfortable and engaging. The rest of the extras tend to be repetitive, but they are plentiful. The DVD-ROM component is buggy and forgettable. The greeting cards supplement should be funnier than it is, and it is annoying to see a commercial with each one. However, the number of great extras shows care and attention.
Mr. Deeds is one of the weaker entries in the Sandler canon. The acting is flat, the story tired. Yet the movie has a warm, engaging feel, and Sandler shows a subtler, more mature approach. The many laugh-out-loud moments are free of profanity or vulgarity. There are a handful of weak gags and some really boring "romance" scenes that are graced by good cinematography, direction, and music. Mr. Deeds fares poorly in the romance department when compared to The Wedding Singer and fares poorly in the humor department when compared to Happy Gilmore. The good extras, great supporting cast, and catchy lines such as "sneaky" make up for a lot but cannot fully save Mr. Deeds.
If you are not an Adam Sandler fan, this might be a good movie to try him out. He is at his least offensive and most likeable. If you are an Adam Sandler fan, you will undoubtedly appreciate many of the extras and the commentary that reveal more about our man. Mr. Deeds does have replay value, especially the first half of the movie before the romance angle bogs it down. Fans should consider purchase; non-fans who want a peek at Sandler from a safe distance should rent it. Ultimately, I believe this movie will prove to be a transitional film for Adam from (hilariously) bonehead comedy to greater range and maturity.
Before I read the verdict, let me say how hard it is to fight temptation. Winona Ryder was just convicted of shoplifting as we speak, and making a "The Verdict" joke at her expense is really tempting. Let's skirt that issue and get to the verdict.
On the charge of letting the fancy clothes fool us, this DVD is guilty as charged: this movie is not what it was marketed as. Adam is released with the good wishes of the court. Director Steven Brill is penalized $50,000 for abusing Allen Covert. Columbia TriStar and New Line Cinema are commended for releasing such a feature-packed disc. Finally, the original Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is commended for lending this movie its classy film cloak. Such acts of kindness should be encouraged.
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Scales of Justice
• Director and Writer Commentary
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