Directed by Thomas McCarthy. Produced by Mary Jane Skalski. Written by Thomas McCarthy and Paul Sado. Release date: March 13, 2015.
Adam Sandler gets a lot of flack – a good chunk of it deserved – for the choices in films that he makes. When you go to see an “Adam Sandler comedy,” you usually know what you’re going to get. The PG-13 comedy isn’t going to challenge your intellect. Sandler will play an obnoxious goof. In recent years, they’ve largely taken place in whatever locale at which Sandler wanted to vacation, and they co-star his friends, because it’s fun to make movies and take paid vacations with your buddies. The major factor I haven’t yet mentioned is that, with rare exceptions, they’re also really bad.
So, at least we have to give Sandler some credit for starring in The Cobbler, which is just as bad as most of his other comedies, but at least tries to do something different. Here, Sandler plays Max Simkin, a cobbler (shoemaker) whose father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had the same profession. He’s not dissatisfied with life, but perhaps he’s just not that interested in it at the moment. He does his job, and he does it well, but it’s just passing him by. It does so, that is, until he finds an antique stitching machine in the shop’s basement, and upon fixing a pair of shoes and trying them on, finds himself looking and sounding like the man whose shoes he fixed. Yes, the machine was magic, and it allows him to literally become the person who owns them. Yes, the filmmakers took the “to walk in another man’s shoes” idiom a little too seriously.
They also missed the point. “To walk a mile in another man’s shoes” is to think about their life and to empathize with them and their struggles. What our protagonist does in The Cobbler is imitate them, use this new-found power to get away with things he otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and eventually – after a significant amount of “whimsical hijinks” – do something “good” – kind of. But, mostly, he just fools around, impersonating random individuals, stalking people, and even (inadvertently) committing murder. Yes, this is all played as comedy. No, it doesn’t work as such.
It is at least a little fun for a while. Watching him skip out on paying for a meal is at least relatively harmless. Stalking people to the point of being able to find out where they live and steal their possessions? Not so much. It’s supposed to be treated as silly and funny, but more often than not it comes across as creepy. It also takes a significant amount of time for it to amount to anything, and by the time it does, it’s hard to care. The various miniature subplots don’t have enough intrigue to them to hold our attention while the main story marinates in the background.
The Cobbler is an unfunny and slightly creepy film about a man who gets to become the people whose shoes he fixes, but doesn’t really do a whole lot with this premise.
Most of The Cobbler winds up meandering around until it thinks we’ve had enough of the non-Sandler actors acting silly and doing stupid/illegal/creepy things. There’s a “romance” subplot between Max and Carmen (Melonie Diaz), a girl who wants to preserve the neighborhood, but it really doesn’t work. None of the movie works. It’s too bad that it’s not even an entertaining mess. After the initial thrill brought on by the premise, it doesn’t offer anything new or exciting to keep our attention.
That seems odd, because we’ve got a whole bunch of different ideas and tones at play here that one would think at least a couple of them would work. One could read The Cobbler as a superhero origin story. No, really. There’s a late-game plot twist that hints at a much bigger picture than what the premise initially seems like it would offer. And there are so many supporting characters who come and go – often because Max wears their shoes and becomes them for a minute at a time – which is a factor you might think would keep things fresh. Somehow, it doesn’t. The film was directed and co-written by Thomas McCarthy, whose previous three directorial efforts were all really well-received. But here, he demonstrates none of that talent.
At least Adam Sandler commits to the role. You can’t accuse him of phoning it in like you can with so many of his comedies – but, then, this isn’t a typical Sandler comedy. He has to play a more dramatic role here more often than not, and as we’ve seen in films like Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, he’s actually quite good at doing so. Supporting roles go to Steve Buscemi, as a barber with a store right next door; Dustin Hoffman, as the good-for-nothing estranged father; Ellen Barkin, as a ruthless real estate tycoon; Method Man, as a gangster who winds up being Max’s most frequent disguise; and Lynn Cohen, as Max’s elderly mother. The performances aren’t the problem with The Cobbler. That’s the fault of the direction and screenplay.
This film wastes an interesting premise and doesn’t really understand the point of the phrase it turned into a reality. The Cobbler is an unfunny and slightly creepy film about a man who gets to become the people whose shoes he fixes, but doesn’t really do a whole lot with this premise. It has many competing elements, none of which work, and it struggles to use its solid cast in any meaningful way.
Bottom Line: The Cobbler is a misfire that’s nowhere near as entertaining as it should be.
Recommendation: Unless you’re starving for a different – but just as bad as usual – Adam Sandler comedy, The Cobbler is one to skip.[rating=1.5]