It can be said with only the slightest trace of irony that "Mr. Deeds" is Adam Sandler's attempt to do Frank Capra. And that's not just because the film is a remake albeit a very loose one of Capra's 1936 classic ordinary guy-gets-rich fable "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."
Sandler's "Mr. Deeds" is also an attempt to bring back the sweeter, more genuine kind of character that has been missing in action since 1997's "The Wedding Singer." And considering that his most recent film was the cringe-inducing bomb "Little Nicky," perhaps the worst thing he's made, it's hard to not consider this a vast improvement, even as flawed and uneven as it is.
However, the movie also has an unfortunate tendency to go "low" or worse to go "stupid" when material starts to lag. And it's crippled by a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads.
Sandler stars as Longfellow Deeds. In this version of the tale, he's no longer a humble tuba player instead, he's a pizzeria owner and aspiring poet who lives in the New Hampshire town of Mandrake Falls.
Deeds has almost everything he could ever want except maybe a girlfriend. But gets a lot more than he can handle when his long-lost great-uncle dies, leaving him with an estate and media holdings worth in excess of $40 billion.
So perhaps it's not too surprising that his great-uncle's greedy employees and stockholders are looking for a way to swindle the sweet-natured but prone-to-rage New Englander out of his inheritance. He's also become fodder for the TV tabloids, which are trying to dig up dirt on him during his visit to New York.
So it is that a reporter for one of those shows, Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder), poses as another fish-out-of-water, school nurse Pam Dawson, to get close to the story.
Even if you haven't seen the original, it's easy to see where this is going, thanks to the heavy-handed, predictable screenplay (courtesy of Sandler crony Tim Herlihy). And in addition to Steven Brill's clumsy direction, this is also one of the worst edited movies in recent history scene cuts seem to occur at random.
Still, Sandler does have some appeal, especially when he's not playing a gross caricature. And you can sense him trying to at least fake chemistry with Ryder, who seems to be here simply to collect a paycheck.
Fortunately, the supporting cast puts in a serious bid to steal the film from both of them. Of those, John Turturro nearly succeeds, garnering a few deserved laughs as Deeds' super-sneaky butler.
"Mr. Deeds" is rated PG-13 for violence (mostly slapstick, as well as a series of "comic" beatings), scattered use of profanity, some crude sexual humor and use of vulgar slang terms and brief partial male nudity. Running time: 93 minutes.