Sandler is slipping

Adam Sandler disappoints again with mushy, sentimental fare in Mr. Deeds.

“God, I wish I weren’t in this movie.”

“God, I wish I weren’t in this movie.”

Rated 2.0

Adam Sandler, a man who has partaken in a few films that I’ve enjoyed, totally blows it with Mr. Deeds, a sad mélange of his previous films and a movie that he appears completely uninterested in.

While I think Sandler can be a lot of fun, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in his recent films, that trend being that I do not like the majority of them. While Little Nicky was Sandler at his weird, obnoxious best, films like Big Daddy, The Wedding Singer and now Mr. Deeds portray Sandler in a sentimental, mushy light that is pure boredom and uncomfortable to watch.

Essentially a remake of the Capra classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington, the movie casts Sandler as Longfellow Deeds, a New Hampshire simpleton (he says “Wicked!” a lot, which I suppose is something common in that neck of the woods). Deeds inherits $40 billion and heads to Manhattan, where an evil executive at the corporation he now owns (Peter Gallagher) is looking to buy out his shares and send him back to his small-town pizza parlor.

Among the film’s many mistakes is casting Winona Ryder as Deeds’ love interest, a tabloid reporter looking to exploit Deeds and save her job. Ryder simply does not do well with dim-witted humor, looking out of place and justifiably embarrassed. Her career has suffered a downturn as of late, and her listless performance here won’t help matters much. She should give Coppola or Scorsese a call.

Sandler himself seems bored, acting like he knows he’s stuck in a lame formula comedy and trying to coast on the dopey puppy-dog appeal that got him box office success in Big Daddy and The Wedding Singer. Deeds is a strange character, embodying the worst sappy aspects of Sandler’s persona with an out-there propensity for violence a la Happy Gilmore.

More than a few were irritated by Sandler’s work in The Waterboy and Little Nicky, movies where he immersed himself in weirdo characters possessing strange voices. At least those characters required a commitment to actually do something besides mope around like he does in Mr. Deeds. Little Nicky required facial contortions and a scratchy voice; The Waterboy called for him to use a Creole accent; and Mr. Deeds has him droning with those stupid sad eyes he introduced in The Wedding Singer.

There are some actors worth watching here, mainly John Turturro as Emilio the sneaky Spanish butler. Turturro inhabits some of the better passages in this film, especially in a moment where he beats the crap out of Deeds’ frostbitten foot. Also on hand is Steve Buscemi as Crazy Eyes (a role that he is physically perfect for), the town nut and philosopher. ("Time heals all wounds … except for these crazy eyes.") Cecil Anderson, as Gallagher’s strange right-hand man, made me giggle with his soft, elegant rendering of David Bowie’s “Major Tom.”

And that’s the major problem here. All the laughs in this film come from people other than Sandler, which doesn’t bode well for Sandler fans. But the future does look bright after this cinematic fart dissipates into the atmosphere. Later this year, he will star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (which earned critical acclaim at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) and Anger Management with Jack Nicholson and Marisa Tomei. Quentin Tarantino has also been kicking around a war film idea with Sandler in mind as a star.

Hopefully Mr. Deeds is just a speed bump or a transitional film for the somewhat talented Sandler. I’m banking on that notion, because I never want to see him slumming in a film like this again.