As someone who watches upwards of 500 movies a year, I've seen more than my fair share of bad remakes. But I've never seen one do anything as stomach-turning as the way Adam Sandler's new movie rapes, pillages and incinerates Frank Capra's classic "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."
Entitled just "Mr. Deeds" and punctuated with elementary dialogue and the worst kind of feel-good muzak score, it doesn't contain a single sincere moment, a single performance that would pass muster in an elementary school play or a single scene without glaring continuity problems. Different takes within the same conversations don't even sync up -- ever.
As in Capra's very funny and heartfelt hallmark, the story is about a modest, idealistic small-town schnook named Longfellow Deeds (Sandler) who inherits a fortune from a distant uncle and is swept away to New York City, where ruthless tabloid scrutiny turns him into an object of both scorn and laughter. Leading the smear campaign is an ambitious female reporter (Winona Ryder), who poses as a fellow wide-eyed out-of-towner. But while trying to railroad Deeds into splashy front-page behavior, she falls for the guy, has a change of heart and decides to help save him from the urban wolves.
Capra's 1936 flick starred Gary Cooper as the earnest Deeds, who eventually finds himself the subject of a sanity trial when he decides to do something startling: give his inheritance away to help those struggling through the Great Depression. Jean Arthur played the wicked-jawed newspaper reporter who discovered her soft side.
But Sandler's Deeds has no such noble intentions for his $40 billion (adjusted for inflation from the original's $20 million). He just wants to keep the greedy board of his uncle's media empire from holding a fire sale after they get him out of the way. The movie's climax is a shareholder's meeting -- yawn! -- in which Sandler gives one of the worst-written speeches in cinema history ("There's still hope for the kids inside all of us," he tells the crowd. "Please don't break up my uncle's company.")
Meanwhile, Ryder turns tough cookie Babe Bennett into a TV tabloid reporter who hates her job but is too timid to stand up for herself, strangling every bit of snap right out of the character until she's as lifeless as an rag doll.
Galloping off toward totally different moods (Ryder ends half her scenes in tears), the actors have clearly been left to their own devices by director Steven Brill, whose work is so haphazard and uniformly incompetent that after a while I was genuinely surprised that the actors even remained in the frame.
I find Adam Sandler to be a hilarious stand-up comic, but the only passable movie I've seen him in was "The Wedding Singer" -- the one that didn't have any of his cronies on the payroll, kissing up to him. I thought his film career couldn't sink any lower than 2000's "Little Nicky" (also directed by Brill, Sandler's buddy) in which the comedian played the retarded son of Satan. But that movie had zero aspirations, and it did boast a hilarious cameo by Reese Witherspoon as a Valley girl angel.
This flick has nothing but its aspirations. Sandler is so flat and uninteresting he's virtually transparent. His idea of giving Deeds personality is to over-burden the character with quirks like hugging instead of shaking hands, using the word "wicked" so much you'd think he was from Boston instead of Mandrake Falls, N.H., and writing bad greeting card limericks as a hobby.
Ryder and John Turturro ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") are both seat-squirmingly ham-fisted (the latter as Deed's eccentric butler with a foot fetish), and poor Peter Gallagher ("American Beauty") is force-fed scenery to chew in a cartoonish role full of first-draft dialogue as the money-grubbing chairman of the board at the uncle's company.
Say what you like about Frank Capra's Pollyannaish cinematic style, his iconic characters always tapped into something innately real and human, and at the end of his films you always feel something in your heart. When this movie was over, all I felt was sick to my stomach.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th June 2002
Box Office USA: $126.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $171.3M
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production compaines: New Line Cinema, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Happy Madison, Out of the Blue... Entertainment
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 121
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Director: Steven Brill
Starring: Adam Sandler as Longfellow Deeds, Winona Ryder as Babe Bennett, John Turturro as Emilio Lopez, Allen Covert as Marty, Peter Gallagher as Chuck Cedar, Erick Avari as Cecil Anderson, Jared Harris as Mac McGrath, Steve Buscemi as Crazy Eyes, Conchata Ferrell as Jan, Peter Dante as Murph, Harve Presnell as Preston Blake
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