- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

"Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" is not one of the Hollywood classics that justifies instant outrage when subjected to tampering. As a matter of fact, the pretext suits the most naive and amiable personality traits of the current tamperer, Adam Sandler, the star of a fitfully amusing but ultimately expendable update titled merely "Mr. Deeds."

Mr. Sandler reincarnates Longfellow Deeds in moods as appealing as those originated by Gary Cooper, a far more glamorous rube, when failing to be impressed by the news that he has inherited a fortune now inflated to $40 billion from the $20 million that seemed prodigious to screenwriter Robert Riskin and director Frank Capra in 1936 or delighting in such deluxe pleasures as the echo-chamber effect and the long, curving banister at his Manhattan mansion.

The Cooper prototype even had a belligerent streak it surfaced at times when Deeds felt insulted or conned that corresponds to the Sandler impulse for violence, customarily purged in slapstick pummelings of one kind or another.

Mr. Sandler's Deeds still resides in a whimsical New England hamlet called Mandrake Falls, ascribed to New Hampshire. He still writes greeting-card verse, an avocation, and also manages the town's only pizzeria, a job opportunity that hadn't matured in time for the Deeds of 1936. The hero is still targeted for exploitation by a devious corporate attorney named Cedar. (Peter Gallagher inherits a thankless revamp of the original Douglas Dumbrille role.)

He's also still played for a chump by a hard-boiled newswoman nicknamed Babe (Winona Ryder in woeful exchange for Jean Arthur), who regrets her deceitfulness and cynicism when she falls in love with the guy.

It seems a little absurd that Babe's nights out with Deeds are being edited instantly for scandalous exposure on a TV tabloid show called "Inside Access," evidently broadcast on the network Deeds himself has just inherited. You also begin to question the sincerity and judgment of a small-town paragon who wants to consort with John McEnroe and Al Sharpton as soon as he takes up residence in New York City. Mr. Sandler's taste in sick humor remains a potential stumbling block, especially when it amuses him to give Deeds a trick, frostbitten foot.

On the other hand, John Turturro gets an effective new role as Deeds' valet, Emilio, who shares the lizardlike tendencies of Stitch, the extraterrestrial in Disney's superlative "Lilo & Stitch" they disappear and reappear with astonishing suddenness and comic impact. Allen Covert is also adept as the pre-eminent flunky of the cast, repeatedly subjected to injury while doing dirty work for "Inside Access."

The movie seems to be accumulating funny highlights through an episode that illustrates Deeds' enduring attraction to fire engines: He rushes to the scene of a burning building, scales it and proceeds to rescue numerous kitties from an apartment, eventually leaping from a window with the corpulent female occupant in his embrace.

The filmmakers start to run out of gas with 30 or 40 minutes left to finesse. The failure of Mr. Sandler and Miss Ryder to develop much romantic-comedy rapport is an obvious drawback. It's also possible that Miss Ryder can't divert attention from her off-screen tribulations at this juncture. She has become such a fixture of tabloid journalism that it's difficult to accept her as a fictional part of the milieu.

The last witty notion in the script revolves around an expedition to Babe's apocryphal, idealized hometown, a Mandrake Falls of the Midwest that turns out to exist after all. The movie stalls out conspicuously when Babe visits Mandrake Falls in order to grapple with a Deeds admirer (Conchata Farrell) and fall into a frozen lake, yet another opportunity for Hollywood to pretend hypothermia is not a matter for concern.

Steven Brill, who directed "Little Nicky," returns to give "Mr. Deeds" a more cluttered and stuffy look than the material needs. "Mr. Deeds" seems to have been composed to resemble one of the Doris Day comedies of the early 1960s.

**TITLE: "Mr. Deeds"

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional slapstick violence and comic vulgarity, including a propensity for "sick" humor)

CREDITS: Directed by Steven Brill. Screenplay by Tim Herlihy, based on Robert Riskin's screenplay for the 1936 Frank Capra movie "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," based on a short story by Clarence Budington Kelland.

RUNNING TIME: About 100 minutes


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