Adam Sandler really wants you to like him. Oh, and he's also very sorry for Little Nicky, an experiment that resembled your typical Sandler flick but had the drawing power of my socks after a full-court basketball game. This time out, Sandler plays it extremely safe in an effort to please his slighted fan base and cover his once-dominated bases. Too bad repeated trips under the microscope of comedy ultimately have produced a lukewarm version of material the comedian relied upon years ago.
Sandler fills the title role in Mr. Deeds (a remake of the ancient Gary Cooper film), playing an unassuming New Hampshire resident and aspiring greeting card writer who learns he's the heir to a $40 billion media conglomerate. Since happiness isn't tied to financial gains in the Granite state, the newfound fortune doesn't faze Deeds, though he does agree to accompany two shareholders (Peter Gallagher and Erick Avari) back to Manhattan to sign what he's told is required paperwork. Once in N.Y., the "big city vs. big country" gags march down Park Avenue with mixed results.
Deeds' sudden wealth may not get his heartbeat racing, but it does propel him to the top of the society columns, which always sells papers in celebrity-starved New York. Everybody wants Deeds' story, but only one tabloid TV show manages to sneak an undercover reporter (Winona Ryder) into the billionaire's confidences. Posing as a small-town girl, Baby gets the material she needs for a juicy expose, until she finds herself falling for the kind-hearted schlub who just wants to do the right thing.
Deathly afraid to alienate any audience members with, say, a Little Nicky lisp or a Waterboy Cajun tongue, Sandler plays Deeds as straight as Pat Roberston and as bland as soup broth. His lack of enthusiasm appears most evident in his scenes with Ryder, as their interactions are peppered with monosyllabic poems and baby talk. When Ryder's not around, Sandler seems more at ease, gently goofing on the freaks and geeks that surround him. The man knows his formula well, and he wears it like a comfortable bathrobe.
At its best, Sandler's humor derives laughter from the unexpected. Somehow, he manages to convince seasoned actors (i.e. Kathy Bates, Harvey Keitel, or John Turturro) to play along with his jokes, no matter how awkward or insulting. Deeds is no different, though the tame humor here rarely gets more offensive than Turturro's butler, Emilio, who suffers an extreme foot fetish. Since Emilio also milks the film's most successful running joke, revolving around his stealth abilities, the two practically cancel each other out.
But what's the point? Nitpicking over a Sandler comedy serves little purpose. Yes, the acting is atrocious (possibly the worst I've seen this year), the romantic chemistry non-existent and the morality struggle endured by Ryder's reporter laughably manufactured. But the 13-year-olds giggling at spastic colon jokes and the sight of Steve Buscemi's crazy eyes will neither notice nor care. So welcome back, Mr. Sandler. The $100 million movie club missed you dearly.
The DVD includes a few extras -- deleted scenes, outtakes, three making-of featurettes, a few of Deeds' greeting cards, and a commentary track by writer Tim Herlihy and director Stephen Brill. The deleted scenes and outtakes provide surprisingly little to laugh at, and the only humor in the intentionally stupid greeting cards comes from wondering where Sandler came up with the absurdly thick New England accent he uses for half of them. The featurettes and commentaries also don't add much to the experience, with the most interesting and unintentionally amusing elements of each being Ryder's discussion of the surprisingly detailed backstory she developed for her character and Herlihy and Brill's fight about which of the two is actually Sandler's best friend. This last bit does at least provide some insight into how Brill ever managed to find his way into the director's chair on such a major production.
He loves pizza on Thanksgiving.