No matter what name Adam Sandler assumes Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, or, in the case of his latest film's character, Mr. Deeds he's still the same persona in every movie.
Let's just call him The Adam Sandler Character(TM).
A quick recap: The Adam Sandler Character(TM) is the ultimate village idiot savant. He's an unbelievably sweet if naive dolt who harbors a hitherto-hidden talent, such as a knack for golf ("Happy Gilmore"), linebacking ("The Waterboy"), or corporate negotiation ("Mr. Deeds"). Oh, and one more thing: He always has an unexpectedly violent streak lurking, Hulk-like, beneath his "aw-shucks" demeanor.
Somehow, this one-note character earns close to $20 million per movie. Now, the latest vehicle for this screen personality: a remake of Frank Capra's "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."
Here, Sandler plays Longfellow Deeds, a simpleton in a tiny Vermont town who, like his Gary Cooper counterpart in the original, suddenly finds himself being whisked to New York to collect a $40 billion inheritance from a distant relative he never knew he had.
But wouldn't you know it, there are nefarious interests sniffing around Deeds's money (although, curiously, the IRS is not among them). Also looking for the scoop on Manhattan's newest celeb are the tabloids. Winona Ryder stars as a reporter who goes incognito to steal the goods (no titters in the back row, please).
Deeds, who's never so much as left his hometown, suddenly finds himself in a palatial environment manned by more butlers than you could cram into Gosford Park. Thankfully, the main butler (John Turturro) provides this joyless movie's one good running gag with his uncanny ability to sneak up on people.
But it's the sight of these manservants in white gloves and tails that tips one off to the serious flaw in adapting a rags-to-riches story to present times. Capra's movie arrived during the Great Depression, when the lifestyles of the rich and famous and even the very notion of wealth held a certain mystique for audiences. But these days, the average moviegoer is, if not well off, then at least sufficiently affluent to pay $10 for a movie. Frank Capra would have been shocked.
And, whereas a "wealth doesn't equal happiness" message might have resonated in 1936, a speech about the pitfalls of money seems, well, rich, coming from a movie that has put more thought into scene-for-scene product placement than on sincere, heartfelt storytelling.
The Adam Sandler Character(TM) ought to retire so he won't roam, like a body snatcher, in search of another host script.
Rated PG-13; contains violence, profanity, and rear nudity.