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dir Tom McCarthy
prd Mary Jane Skalski
scr Tom McCarthy, Paul Sado
with Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Cliff "Method Man" Smith, Melonie Diaz, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Barkin, Dan Stevens, Lynn Cohen, Fritz Weaver, Craig Walker, Kim Cloutier, Yul Vazquez
release US 13.Mar.15, UK 22.May.15
14/US Voltage 1h39
Neighbourhood watch: Sandler and Buscemi
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
This film may have a clever premise, but the script never makes anything of it, taking the most simplistic route through the plot that the actors seem to be sleepwalking. Sometimes, the relaxed tone makes the movie faintly endearing, but as we wait for something meaningful to happen it becomes more interesting to try to figure out where everything went wrong.
Last in a long line of New York cobblers, Max (Sandler) doesn't really like his job. In his 40s, he still lives with his mother (Cohen); his father (Hoffman) abandoned them years ago. Max's only friend is the barber (Buscemi) next door, who urges him to ask out Carmen (Diaz), an activist trying to stop an aggressive developer. Then Max discovers that the old stitching machine in the basement gives shoes he repairs special powers: when he wears them he transforms into the owner. So he starts using this magic to change his life.
Sandler gives a realistically exhausted performance as Max, although it's an inconsistent role: an exhausted loser who's also a superhero mastermind. This makes the film eerily reminiscent of that legendary stinker The Master of Disguise (2002), and it leaves everyone around Sandler looking artificial and cartoonish, although at least they manage to maintain their dignity as the frankly baffling plot meanders along.
It's difficult to see this as a movie by the same director who made The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win, films that had an unusually sharp sense of characters and situations. While there are earthy touches here and there, this film's lazy plotting and paper-thin characterisations leave everything undercooked. There are also some nasty turns and yucky elements in Max's impersonations, plus some oddly violent scenes and a hint of racism. These might have worked if there was a point to it all, but each event and character feels artificial and essentially irrelevant.
By stripping away all complexity, the film fumbles its central theme about finding your true role in life. Instead, the message is that if you can get away with a crime, go for it. So as it flails around between a gentle comedy, a sentimental drama and a half-baked caper, the film stubbornly refuses to engage the audience. It's breezy enough to avoid being boring, but only just. And the final twist in the tale, complete with an extended explanation, is pretty painful.
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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