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'Mr. Deeds'

Goofy comic turns a classic into something ... less than classic

Friday, June 28, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Mr. Deeds" is going to town, all right, but he'd rather stay home -- in Mandrake Falls, N.H., running his pizza parlor. Trouble is, he just inherited a $40 billion media conglomerate and has to go sign a few papers for it in the Big Apple.

'Mr. Deeds'

RATING: PG-13 for mildly vulgar language

STARRING: Adam Sandler, Winona Ryder, John Turturro

DIRECTOR: Steven Brill

WEB SITE: www.sonypictures.



This loose-as-a-Mother-Goose remake of the 1936 Frank Capra classic puts Adam Sandler in the title role as Longfellow Deeds (you can see why he prefers surname only). He's the ultimate nice guy, the kind who goes in for warm manly hugs instead of handshakes and gives an old man a lift down the street -- literally.

Deeds was perfectly happy making his signature pizzas (with french-fry and Oreo toppings) and regaling customers with his (always rejected) greeting-card submissions to Hallmark. Now, he has to deal with a corrupt corporate world that makes Enron and WorldCom look like the Salvation Army.

Take Winona Ryder, for instance -- the aggressive TV news reporter, who befriends him under false romantic pretenses in order to get an inside story. How naive is Deeds? So naive, he believes her when she says she's Swedish ("my grandfather was in Abba").

On the other hand, there's the saving grace of Emilio (John Turturro), his late uncle's Dracula-like manservant. Kinky Emilio must constantly correct the impression that he's Puerto Rican ("I hail from Spain") and, after expressing unusual interest in changing Deeds' socks, finally pops the big question: "May I touch your feet?"

There are some good bits by hoary old Harve Presnell as the uncle, Jared Harris as the world's sleaziest Eyewitness News ace, and huge Conchata Ferrell as the imperious pizza queen back home.

There are also some strange cameo appearances by John McEnroe and Rev. Al Sharpton as -- who else? -- "themselves." How they got that duo to participate is a mystery explainable only by some off-screen friendships or gambling debts.

Sandler, for his part, does the usual variation on his "Billy Madison" persona ("You were wicked-good to me, and I'm wicked-sorry ..."), tips kids and waitresses $20,000 for good service, rescues seven cats in a volunteer fireman burlesque, and so forth.

Ryder, whom we love in general, retains most of her dignity. She's no Jean Arthur, but then Sandler ain't no Gary Cooper, either.

Steven Brill directs traffic and the film adequately enough, incorporating a couple of nice Central Park and Madison Square Garden set pieces for romantic Manhattan ambience, which is always popular but even more nostalgic nowadays.

Just when you think it's all disarmingly charming, Brill can't resist uncharmingly arming Ferrell and Ryder for a slapstick cat fight in the pizza shop. Yecch. Tacky.

But never mind.

What can you say about an Adam Sandler film? Juvenile? Sophomoric? Adolescent? But of course. It's for kids of all ages -- all ages between 11 and 20, that is, plus a few aging adolescents emeritus (like me) who dug Opera Man on "Saturday Night Live."

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