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'Mr. Deeds' suffers from lackluster script

'Mr. Deeds' -- PG-13

OK, OK, I must admit the preconceptions lurking in my mind before going to see the latest Adam Sandler vehicle, "Mr. Deeds," were rather low. I was hoping that a bit of talent from his onscreen counterpart Winona Ryder might buoy the film. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

Media mogul Preston Blake has died in a fatal attempt to climb Mount Everest in his old age. With no natural heir, his company has been forced to look for the closest living relative, which turns out to be his great-nephew, Longfellow Deeds (Adam Sandler), a small-town boy who does not realize the perils and perks that he is about to receive basically by a genetic lottery.

Playing off Deed's naïveté; is the pernicious No. 2 man of the company, Chuck Cedar (Peter Gallagher), who hopes to buy out Deeds' stock and then break up the company and sell it piecemeal to the highest bidders. Adding to Deeds' problems is that his life is the constant target of the tabloid TV show, "Inside Access." To get to Deeds, the show is using Babe Bennett (Winona Ryder), a pretty reporter masquerading as small-town girl Pam Dawson.

Fortunately, Deeds has solid support behind him. To help keep Deeds planted, there is his scene-stealing, "sneaky, sneaky" butler, Emilio (John Turturro) and his back-home mentor, Jan (Conchata Ferrell). They and Babe, who is falling in love with Deeds, support Deeds through his missteps in the big city.

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To clarify one thing before I go any further, I am by no means an Adam Sandler-hater. Some of his earlier works such as "Happy Gilmore" are funny and classic examples of the modern comedy. However, "Mr. Deeds" falls flat because the plot is basically that of all his previous films thrown together in a giant celluloid blender and churned out in a typical mix that leaves nothing to chance in its straightforward marketing to the younger set.

But things could be worse than just a stale script. Sandler, in his own peculiar and unique way, provides his typical leading-role material -- just a normal guy who manages to hit it big. I can't really fault him with too much, but again, as with the script, the role of Longfellow Deeds seems too much to be a summary of Sandler's previous roles.

Ryder, however, has some explaining to do. In what's clearly the No. 2 role, Winona plays it as if it were a bit part. She sleepwalks through her lines providing little if any life in her character. This leads me to think that this role was taken just for (heaven forbid) the money. Perhaps she needed some extra cash to pay her legal bills? (Did I just say that aloud?)

Perhaps the most irksome thing of all is the sloppy directing provided by Steven Brill. With a strong directing presence, perhaps a little bit of chemistry between Ryder and Sandler could have been created (or even faked). But an even worse transgression is a complete forgetting of details. In a movie that takes place in the span of about a week, is it really possible for the weather to turn from early fall to midwinter almost instantaneously? Possible, yes, but only with the help from a major blizzard that does not show up anywhere in the film.

While "Mr. Deeds" could have been far worse than it was, there was ample room for improvement. Perhaps all things could have been solved by a more original script or a more influential director. Whatever the true problem, the movie needed help. So despite some truly funny characters and scenes, the overwhelmingly awful script pulls the movie down to a rating of 44 percent.

Andrew Howard is a senior from Rochester Lourdes High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336); write Teen Beat, Post-Bulletin, P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903-6118 or send e-mail to teenbeat@postbulletin.com.

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