Every once in a while, Adam Sandler eschews the baby-talk shtick and the scatological gags and the horrendous scripts in favor of actually doing some acting.
“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002), “Spanglish” (2004), “Reign Over Me” (2007), “Funny People” (2009), “Men, Women & Children” (2014): In each of these films, Sandler inhabited a character and proved to be quite capable as a dramatic actor. He has a certain, natural pathos that can’t be taught.
“The Cobbler” represents Sandler’s latest effort to create a meaningful character, and it’s certainly a solar system away from disposable garbage such as “Blended” and “That’s My Boy” and “The Grown-Ups” movies — but it is a misfire of spectacular proportions, a film so unspeakably disastrous it might be just be the worst Adam Sandler movie ever made.
This is one of the weirdest fables I’ve ever seen — a journey that takes the wrong path at every turn before a final act so insanely stupid and insulting they might as well have had the actors turn to the camera and give us a collective raspberry.
Sandler plays Max Simkin, a fourth-generation cobbler on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Max is so burdened by the bland sadness of his existence he can barely muster the energy to look at his customers or lift his feet when he’s shuffling along.
Every morning, Max opens his shop and endures the prying questions of the barber (Steve Buscemi) next door. Every night, Max returns home to care for his ailing mother (Lynn Cohen) in Sheepshead Bay. And nearly every step of the way, bouncy klezmer music plays in the background.
Method Man gives an embarrassing performance as a vicious thug named Ludlow, who beats his girlfriend, terrorizes the neighborhood and threatens to kill Max if Max doesn’t have his shoes repaired in timely fashion. Late one night, as Max tries to repair’s Ludlow’s alligator loafers, his stitching machine breaks down, and Max has to use an ancient machine once operated by his great-grandfather.
Once the alligator shoes are repaired, Max tries them on, and presto! He looks just like Ludlow. It’s still Max inside, but when he walks out the door, everyone thinks he’sLudlow.
Max discovers he can transform into any of his customers — as long as the customer is a size 10½. (Conveniently, just about everyone seems to be a 10 ½.)
And what does Max do with this magical power? He goes Full Creepy, Borderline Racist and Borderline Rapist. Just a few of the scenarios, and I swear I’m not making this up:
*Max dons shoes worn by his father (played by Dustin Hoffman!), who abandoned the family years ago, so he can transform into his father and have a romantic dinner with his mother. Oedipal much?
*As Ludlow, Max confronts a white businessman and demands the guy give him his shoes, so Max can take the white guy’s luxury car for a joyride.
*Max dons the shoes of a handsome Brit (Dan Stevens) and enters his apartment, where he encounters the Brit’s gorgeous girlfriend in the shower. She invites him to join her and Max is all for it — until he realizes that if he takes off his shoes, he’ll transform back into Max. In other words, Max was all too willing to effectively rape this woman because she thought he was her boyfriend.
What a guy.
And yet through all these uncomfortable, unfunny, bizarre and distasteful tableaux, I’m assuming we’re supposed to be rooting for Max the underdog. Granted, Max does try to perform some good deeds while inhabiting the soles of others (get it, soles/souls?), but even then, his methodology is inexplicable.
“The Cobbler” goes from bad to you-have-to-be-kidding in that final act, when we’re given a big reveal that makes no sense, even in the context of a bat-bleep crazy fable.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about “The Cobbler” is it was written and directed by the deeply talented Tom McCarthy, writer of the animated treasure “Up” and writer-director of wonderful films such as “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win.”
No doubt McCarthy will rebound from this nightmare. He’s far too gifted a filmmaker to continue down this rabbit hole.
As for Sandler, he tried.