Adam Sandler: an imbecile matures

Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2002 at 10:25 p.m.
Adam Sandler is an actor who has always stayed within his range; from the gibbering idiot "Billy Madison," to the violent moron "Happy Gilmore," to the violent gibbering idiot "The Waterboy," to the irritating demonic dolt "Little Nicky," Sandler has always played stupid, sociopathic maladroits. But with his latest film, "Mr. Deeds," Sandler attempts to graduate to the status of dim-witted rube.
"Mr. Deeds" is a vastly inferior remake of the 1936 Gary Cooper classic "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," which will not be reviewed here today. I highly encourage you to rent "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," instead of this new release, but a side-by-side comparison of Adam Sandler and Gary Cooper might result in my brain melting.
Sandler stars as Deeds, a naive but good-natured fellow who has never left the tiny hamlet of Mandrake Falls. He spends his days writing bad greeting cards and delivering pizzas, until one day he is presented with the inheritance of a long-lost uncle. Deeds finds himself with controlling interest in a major media conglomorate, worth an estimated $40 billions. So Deeds goes to the big city, and his simple ways lead to colorful clashes with the highbrow New York snobs.
There is also the love story, which I must call special attention to. Sandler as a fish-out-of-water works fairly well, and some of the Mandrake Falls locals (including Steve Buscemi as the movie-stealing 'Crazy Eyes') are good for some chuckles. But the love story, involving Winona Ryder as a bumbling tabloid reporter, consumes far too much of the movie, and wavers between being very bad and egregiously bad.
Ryder gives quite possibly the least funny performance of the year, and the entire romance is unconvincing and entirely lame. "Mr. Deeds" is not the worst of the Sandler movies, but it is very, very bad. However, he did prove that his range as an actor is growing; he can add 'rube' to the list of parts he has mastered.
"Billy Madison" was the first starring role for Sandler, playing a spoiled rich kid who might in fact be the stupidest person ever to have a film named after him. His father had to bribe his teachers starting in first grade so that Billy wouldn't be held back. The movie finds Billy as a grown man, who drinks himself to even greater depths of stupidity and hallucinates a giant, antagonistic penguin.
Billy must go back to school, passing every grade from first through 12th, in order to take over his father's huge multi-billion-dollar hotel company. If he fails, then the company will be handed over to a weasly, scheming lawyer (who proved to be the template for the villain in every single Sandler film to follow). Shenanigans ensue. This is all very simple-minded humor, with a few funny moments and a few more that aren't quite so funny. Perfect for adolescents and below, but probably not too exciting for a grown-up.
"Happy Gilmore" was Sandler's second film, and for my money it is his best. Happy is a maladjusted man with a lifelong dream of being a pro hockey player shot down due to the fact he stinks at hockey. So he follows a new direction, and takes his thug hockey mentality to the links and becomes a professional golfer. His slap shot is parlayed into a fearsome drive, and his attitude revolutionizes the 'sport' of golf. Standard unbelievable love interest and standard scheming villain are both included.
"Happy Gilmore" isn't much different than any other Sandler flick, with the cheesy '70s music, the rampant stupidity and explosive violence, but this was the one they got right - more or less, anyway. Sandler's sociopathic shtick is a perfect foil for the ultra-dreary environs of professional golf. He has said that "Gilmore" was his attempt at making his own "Caddyshack," so maybe since I'm a sucker for "Caddyshack" I'm a sucker for this movie, too.
If you're going to rent an Adam Sandler movie (which I don't recommend) make it "Happy."
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