Adam Sandler’s ‘The Cobbler’ a Historical, Stupefying Disaster

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CHICAGO – The newest Adam Sandler film that doesn’t feature him dressed like a chubby middle schooler is really bad, but in a special way. Similarly, it is an instant classic in the legacy of bizarre disasters, a footnote in writer/director history that must be witnessed to be fully understood. Part of its perplexity is how the film is always in grasp as it shows itself, and how you can reach out and try to bring it back home, but then it explodes. This is one of those films where its flaws are more believable as a conspiracy than a misjudgment. Someone, please, let the police know that writer/director Tom McCarthy is missing, and someone has his shoes.

The key to entering “The Cobbler” is indeed not lead star Adam Sandler but co-writer/director McCarthy. If you’ve seen his films like “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor,” “Win Win,” or even “Up” (which he contributed to), one knows McCarthy to be an emotionally intelligent storyteller. His tales of surrogates and new families are original screenplays with a warm, assured touch. His third acts in particular, the homestretch that separates the interesting writers from those who are serviceable, confirm his ability for a fine polish.

With all of this said, what McCarthy’s storytelling doesn’t need is whimsy, as is the case with his latest film and hopefully his worst ever, “The Cobbler.” Its prologue begins with someone advising that to truly know a man, you must walk in his shoes. (The man who says this is indeed a cobbler.) This is such a literal and obvious thesis statement that McCarthy’s film owns awareness to its storybook context. And even a hundred years later, when Sandler’s title character Max (grandson of the wise man) literally turns into another person by putting on their shoes (while still wearing his own clothes, and still thinking like Max), McCarthy’s magic is still within bounds.

As humdrum Max discovers this new lease on other lives, a score of clarinets and strings (by John Debney and Nick Urata) provides a nice gloss, and suddenly the tale does have a little spark. Cinematography by Mott Hupfel maintains its storybook expressiveness, like when Max is shown crouched over his magical shoe repair machine, desperately churning away with a single bulb over his head, a desperate dream carved out of darkness.

Unhappy with his life and thrilled at what he can do with an assortment of different identities, he uses the shoes selfishly. While “The Cobbler” errs towards being heir to Paul Verhoeven’s “Hollow Man” in the beginning, and uses actor Method Man for ancient stereotypes, through its oppressive ridiculousness there remains a bit of hope. As the score sweetens this albeit very creepy, very racist little trinket, there’s a nice scene where Max wears his long-gone father’s shoes, to surprise his mother. It’s still hokey, kind of weird, but confidence within McCarthy is still there.

The Cobbler
The Cobbler
Photo credit: Image Entertainment

“The Cobbler” becomes an instantly historical disaster when it absolutely implodes in the third act, expanding its racist, creepy, illogical nudges to no purpose than for cheap storytelling, and rushing to a list of strange twists as if trying to commit narrative hara-kiri. The movie’s initial nifty hook of having Max change characters at the drop of a shoe similarly loses its meager charm when many actors have to put on Sandler’s dumb, glum face. (In this regard, Method Man’s performance becomes a special treat, despite the cruel requirements put upon him by this script.) Sandler is not colorful enough of a dramatic actor to intrigue audiences with a mystery, especially when other actors (including Dan Stevens of “The Guest”) have to echo his flat expressions. He is gravely miscast, and this plainness makes his character’s bizarre actions further less believable.

But by no magic of its own, the movie chugs along with a ridiculous chain of events, which should have stayed a crumbled piece of paper in the trash can when McCarthy began even thinking about a rough draft, one that intertwines abusive boyfriends and underground crime with the eternal struggle of the 99% against a vicious 1%. Max gets himself into a whole lot of trouble, wearing the wrong pair of shoes at the wrong time, and McCarthy’s script finds itself in less redeemable hell.

What made McCarthy’s script initially intriguing - the harmfulness of this magic - is softened by this third act, without its moral compass corrected. Its lack of logic is equally as untamed, in which an initial promise of live-action fantasy collapses by the end to a pointlessness of absolutely everything in this entire world as we know it. Magical pickles are par for the course, no big deal. Twists abound, and you just submit. It’s disturbingly unclear as to when, if at all, McCarthy must have felt the same way about this story that loses total and tonal control.

In another dimension, likely accessed by at least three black holes, McCarthy’s idea of playful imagination better correlates with ours, and everyone is happy. But in our world, “The Cobbler” is oppressively weird. It’s the bad movie experience equivalent to the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” section of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Off the top of my head, “The Cobbler” is more immediately like McCarthy’s “Lady in the Water,” referring to that M. Night Shyamalan bedtime story that his kids apparently loved that then turned into a terrible film no one else did. But unlike Shyamalan, McCarthy is no persistent fluke, he’s a good guy with sincere intentions. At some point with “The Cobbler,” though, he went wrong, way, far out wrong, and continued to pioneer a trail of madness. Hopeful but then stupefied by a whole other type of incomprehensible movie magic, we are equally numbed and amazed.

“The Cobbler” is now available on VOD. Featuring Adam Sandler, Method Man, Ellen Barkin, Steve Buscemi, Dan Stevens, and Dustin Hoffman. Screenplay by Tom McCarthy and Paul Sado. Directed by McCarthy. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com editor and staff writer Nick Allen

By NICK ALLEN
Editor & Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
nick@hollywoodchicago.com

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