As uncomfortable pairings go, Adam Sandler and Frank Capra isn't quite up there with Norman Wisdom and Martin Scorsese, but it's pretty close. One made intelligent, humanist dramas with a strong sense of triumph and redemption for the common man. The other hits people a lot and has a strong line in toilet gags.
Fans of Capra's 1936 movie Mr Deeds Goes To Town were understandably twitchy when it was announced that the star of Happy Gilmore and - - oh, dear God, no - - Little Nicky was eyeing up the movie as potential remake fodder. Well, the result isn't half as bad it could have been.
In fact, Sandler's actually pretty good as Longfellow Deeds, the small-town pizza-parlour owner and wannabe greeting card writer who suddenly inherits of a multi-million dollar business empire. A little bit more savvy than his usual line of hair-trigger buffoons, Deeds has strong echoes of Robbie Hart, Sandler's character from The Wedding Singer, his sweetest, most rounded film to date. He's warm, he's likeable and his inability to see the bad in people is more down to his desire to see the good than any lack of basic smarts. Yes, he's still big on Sandler's trademark shouting and comedy punch-ups (the admonitory thumping he hands out to a bunch of snobs in a restaurant is priceless), but he's still a credible rom-com lead.
Which is more than can be said for love interest Winona Ryder. Dialling in a distracted turn as Babe Bennett, the newspaper reporter out to get the inside story on the new millionaire, she's again misplaced the charm and mystery that once rocketed her to the top of the Hollywood tree. Forget the shop-lifting charge - this performance should bag her a caution and a little community service.
Yet despite Ryder's apathy, Mr Deeds still has the skeleton of a charming feelgooder. Trouble is, Sandler and director Steven Brill (Little Nicky) keep trying to flesh it out with gross-out gags and overcooked slapstick. It's as if gentle heartwarming smiles aren't enough for them: they need belly-laughs and slapped thighs, too. Cue Deeds getting sneaky manservant Emilio (the fantastic John Turturro) to repeatedly thump his nerve-dead frostbitten foot with a poker. Or a convoluted sequence involving a burning building and some endangered cats. Or a drunken night out on the town with John McEnroe. Or... well, you get the picture.
These bits are perfectly funny in themselves but fidget uncomfortably next to the rest of the film. Just when you've settled down for a little ooohing and aaahing over how sweet and nice it all is, you get belted in the face with a slapstick sledgehammer. Then, while you're still reeling from the unexpected shock, it goes back to the softly-softly tickle tactics.
Everyone's going to like some of Mr Deeds. Trouble is, few people are going to like it all.
Half feelgood rom-com, half gross-out vom-com, Mr Deeds is a movie at war with itself - - but it emerges just about intact. You could do worse on a Friday night...