Is it possible for Frank Capra’s beloved 1936 social comedy ”Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” — in which upstanding Vermont rube Gary Cooper inherits $20 million and outsmarts the city slickers — to survive, spirit intact, as an Adam Sandler movie? ”I think Adam Sandler is pretty much synonymous in most people’s minds with Gary Cooper,” says Deeds costar Gallagher. ”When I think of Adam, I think of Gary. Sandler, Cooper.” After a long dry pause, the actor quietly chuckles, perhaps relishing the thought of old-movie buffs everywhere passing out over their Maltins.
Oh, calm down. For one thing, as director Brill points out, ”Adam’s career alternates. There are the broad comedies, and then there are the more straight romantic leads. ”Happy Gilmore”/”The Wedding Singer.” The ”Water Boy”/”Big Daddy.” Even if ”Little Nicky” hadn’t been pasted, we probably would have wound up doing something like this.” It helps that Brill, who also directed ”Little Nicky,” chose to work in the style of screwball-comedy masters like Capra and Preston Sturges. The supporting cast, in fact, looks to be rich with modern-day Sturges types. Aside from Gallagher as a villainous CEO and Ryder in the old Jean Arthur role (go ahead, ask — will she steal the movie?), the quirky visages of Buscemi, Turturro, and Harris, are all on display. ”I grew up loving romantic comedies, particularly ones set in New York,” says Brill, who scouted locations while listening to Gershwin and other top-hat sounds. ”I think the movie’s a great mix of Sandler and that old New York. It’s really elegant and funny as s— at the same time.” Maybe the buffs had better stick to Turner Classic Movies.