Longellow Deeds operates a pizza parlor in small-town New England and, upon learning he has inherited $40 billion, he can't think of a thing he might do with the money. Yeah, right. Even Ted Turner, the model for the long-lost uncle who left Deeds holding the moneybags, gave millions to the United Nations. But the best Adam Sandler, as the titular Mr. Deeds, can come up with is overtipping.
The notion of a guy who's indifferent to money suddenly striking it rich made for a marvelous fantasy in 1936, the year Robert Riskin wrote "Mr. Deeds Comes to Town."
But this is Sandler's fantasy, and he plays the same genial innocent goof he played -- give or take a few I.Q. points -- in "The Waterboy" and "The Wedding Singer." It's a charming persona, and during parts of "Mr. Deeds," it sets up scenes that are cute and funny. For example, Deeds works at hilarious counterpoint to Emilio (John Turturro), the sleek, omnipresent Spanish butler he inherits along with the fortune. But when working opposite Peter Gallagher's power-hungry executive, Deeds looks like just one more sitcom straight man. And when he falls at first sight for cute but clumsy Pam Dawson (Winona Ryder), you just want to shake him for being so gullible.
Of course, any character who can make you want to throttle him must reach viewers on some level, and Sandler occasionally manages to do that. Thing is, he'll follow an engaging moment with something unnecessary and stupid, like punching strangers in the nose. Continuity-wise, "Mr. Deeds" becomes a catalog of contradictory moments as Deeds loses his company and Dawson, only to regain them in a climax so clumsily assembled it stops just this side of an insult to our intelligence.
Intelligence and reality, of course, are beside the point with Sandler, even though he enjoys peppering his one-dimensional plots with real-life celebrities. (Tennis bad boy John McEnroe gets the cameo this time.) The currently indicted and truth-challenged Ryder, simply by playing a liar (she's a tabloid reporter, not the school nurse she claims to be), lends her own peculiar reality to the proceedings. But with a part that's woefully underwritten, Ryder does not, ahem, steal the show.
The production team is dominated by longtime Sandler pals. Perennial Sandler writer Tim Herlihy ("Happy Gilmore," "Big Daddy" and more) is Sandler's college roommate. Director Steven Brill has had a hand in at least two other Sandler flicks. But this is the one in which the nepotism catches up.
While Brill's direction is crisp, Herlihy's jokes aren't much. (Try to avoid groaning when Deeds recites his lame greeting-card poems.) They can still draw laughs, but this is a team that's running out of ideas. Either that, or they're all just marking time until their next collaboration, "Anger Management," comes out later this year. You might want to wait, too.