Bad Deeds Overcomes Adam Sandler's Good Intentions

Mr. Deeds | Elvis Costello | Billy Joel

Bad Deeds Overcomes Adam Sandler's Good Intentions

I would like to say that Adam Sandler's latest film, Mr. Deeds, is OK fun and that you might as well see it — but I can't do that.

It is atrociously awful, worse than the very bad Bad Company, which came out last week, and many degrees less digestible than Little Nicky, Sandler's previous comedy.

I'm sorry I have to say this. Over the last few days I met the film's director, Steve Brill, and he is a nice guy. He's not stupid or an easy target. I know he's capable of making a good film. But this isn't it.

Mr. Deeds is loosely — and I underscore the word — adapted from Frank Capra's 1936 classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, which starred Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.

Here, Gary Cooper's part — yes, Gary Cooper's — is played by Adam Sandler. This is the same Adam Sandler whose comic timing I've admired in The Wedding Singer and in some Saturday Night Live sketches (namely "Operaman").

But casting Adam Sandler as a modern-day Gary Cooper is like thinking George Clooney is actually a new-millennium Clark Gable. Or even better: Pam Anderson as Carole Lombard.

That dog, as they say, ain't gonna hunt.

Now, there are some pedestrian elements of Mr. Deeds that are amusing. John Turturro is very humorous as Deeds's butler. Jared Harris makes for a witty Australian tabloid-TV reporter. Conchata Ferrell — who once starred in an eloquent film called Heartland — at least has a job.

And that's it. End of story.

Sandler, who is capable of much more than this, stars in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch- Drunk Love this fall, a real movie in which he does substantial work.

New Line Cinema got out of the Adam Sandler business after the Little Nicky debacle, and gave Mr. Deeds's domestic rights to Sony/Columbia Pictures.

Still, New Line is an investor in Deeds. I am told that the film will have to earn $100 million before New Line starts to see any of its investment back, especially if foreign audiences reject this crap. (Maybe the language barrier will help.)

All told, writer-producer-star Sandler earned about $20 million — and then some — for Mr. Deeds. Sony will have to sell a lot of Walkmans and PlayStations to make up for this fatal misstep.

As I said at the beginning of this column, I like Steve Brill and I wish him well. But I did hear some members of the Deeds crew at Tuesday night's premiere trying to justify their film by putting down the original.

Capra's film functions in subtlety and nuance. It's not heavy-handed; its plot points are simple and uncomplicated.

By contrast, the new Deeds is made with a sledgehammer and a tire iron. There is nothing in it to suggest the original — or even to demonstrate an understanding of it.

The old Deeds is gone for the moment. But in a few weeks it will return, and the Sandler movie will be relegated to footnote history, along with Rocky and Bullwinkle, Down to You and three or four dozen other stinkers of the last five years.

Elvis Costello Bids Goodbye to 'Alison'

Most pop singers carry with them the onus of an early-career hit song that must be played as an encore or final number in their live show. Sting has "Every Breath You Take," Paul McCartney has "Yesterday," Elton John has "Your Song."

Until last night, Elvis Costello had "Alison." At his second and final show this week at the Beacon Theater here in New York, Costello finally exorcised this demon and omitted completely the 1977 song. It was a relief, and you could tell Costello felt it.

Playing before a jam-packed sold-out audience — a wildly enthusiastic audience, to say the least — Costello simply shined.

When the power went out on stage during "Clubland," the second number, the acerbic singer-songwriter picked up an acoustic guitar and led the audience through a sing-along of "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes." It was brilliant, and the moment energized the already psyched-up crowd.

From then on, with amps back in working order, Costello pulled together an eclectic selection from his huge songbook.

With no notice, he took the band through "You Little Fool" from his 1982 masterpiece of songwriting, Imperial Bedroom, and made a rare performance of "Riot Act," from 1980's Get Happy, a memorable occasion.

Costello is promoting his latest album, When I Was Cruel, which I've raved about in this space before. He included many of those songs, including the masterpiece of a title track, as well as "Alibi," "Tart," and "Episode of Blonde."

Costello finished the show with several numbers, including the 1977 rock anthem "Radio Radio."

One line from that song — "radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools/trying to anesthetize the way that we feel" — could not be more significant now. He said it 25 years ago and no one listened. Now we're paying the price.

Billy Joel Tries Some Honesty

One of New York's most beloved singers, Billy Joel, is off to rehab — or is on his way back from it, depending on the dates involved.

We wouldn't know any of this except that the Stamford Advocate newspaper decided to print the news. Billy and his staff were caught off-guard and spent yesterday trying to remember which story they'd told which reporter.

I told you that back in February he made an incoherent, rambling speech at the NARAS Grammy dinner at which he was the honoree. Then a New York Times reviewer suggested he was drunk at a show with Elton John.

Last week, I was told that Billy missed the Songwriters Hall of Fame because he had a car accident. One of his buddies said he'd hit a deer. His publicist told the Daily News he'd swerved and hit a pole in the town of Sag Harbor.

As far as anyone can tell, there is no police record for this incident. All that's on the Southampton Police records (they govern Sag Harbor) is a 1997 car accident.

So maybe Billy's absence from the Hall of Fame dinner was because he was on his way to rehab, or actually already there.

At this point, what's the difference? The main thing is that Billy gets the help he needs and begins his recovery. He is a huge talent, and a man with a big heart. But even people in that category need to rest and recharge. Good for you, Billy.

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