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Mr. Deeds

It’s not just that the movie itself is wicked awful, it’s that Mr. Deeds brings out the worst in Adam Sandler. I’m talking about the cornball holy-fool side that infects even his better movies, such as Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer. Sandler, screenwriter Tim Herlihy and director Steven Brill haven’t just remade the 1936 Frank Capra classic, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, about a New England bumpkin who inherits a fortune — they have reduced its comic truth to trite jokes and tear-jerking drivel. Sandler follows Gary Cooper in the role of Longfellow Deeds, a New Hampshire pizza-joint owner who writes greeting-card poetry on the side and hugs everybody in sight. That includes Chuck (Peter Gallagher) and Cecil (Erick Avari), strangers from New York who tell Deeds — he hates being called Longfellow — that a tycoon relative has left him a $40 billion empire. In Manhattan, looked after by Emilio (John Turturro) — a Spanish butler with a foot fetish — Deeds is pounced on by the press. A tabloid-TV host (Jared Harris) assigns his best reporter, Babe (Winona Ryder), to get the dirt on Deeds. What do you know? Babe uncovers only the nice guy, even after Deeds and John McEnroe (don’t ask) enjoy a drunken boys’ night out.

Deeds soon cracks Babe’s hard shell. It’s love, until he discovers the deception. Then there’s more love and more sweetness until you want to run from the multiplex screaming. It’s a tossup whether it’s Ryder or Turturro who does the most career damage.p>hings liven up when Deeds punches out some hip, snide New York snobs and berates them for their “ironic detachment.” There’s a passion in this scene, as if Sandler has found a way to answer his critics. But the life quickly flickers out of the acting, writing and direction. If you admire Sandler’s very real talent, even ironic detachment won’t ease the pain of watching him waste it.

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