Adam Sandler has been in worse movies, but never one as messy and poorly conceived as The Cobbler.
The Cobbler is barely a movie. To describe it more accurately would be to call it a collection of scenes that people filmed and others assembled in the hopes that you would accidentally pay for a ticket while trying to see Chappie. Don’t do that. The Cobbler isn’t trying hard enough to earn your dollar, even inadvertently. It’s barely trying hard enough to keep Adam Sandler awake for the length of its production.
Sandler plays a cobbler who inherits a magic sewing machine, which allows him to resemble the owner of whatever shoes he repairs. Beyond this starting point, The Cobbler leads down several underdeveloped subplots, simply dropping those ideas once the script finds a more tantalizing story to follow. At first, Sandler’s Max Simkin is simply trying to keep the family business afloat as neighborhood stores are closing and being sold off. Soon, Max slips on Method Man’s shoes and discovers he can (queue record scratch) walk in another man’s shoes. Max uses his ability to assume the identity of a criminal in order to rob people without ramifications, because everyone here is scared of the large black man. Max sneaks into the home of a sexy woman while wearing the attractive Dan Stevens’ shoes, scares children while wearing a dead man’s shoes, and generally pulls highly unethical gags as an attempt at mildly enjoyable humor.
This bouncing between ideas sends The Cobbler’s tone crashing into walls. When the film begins, Max’s connection to the family shoe repair shop has been waning. His father had abandoned him and his mother years ago for unspoken reasons, and his now elderly mother shows some signs of dementia. There are discussions of shifting cultural identity in a changing urban landscape, and Melonie Diaz as an activist against gentrification; however, by the end of The Cobbler this progresses into an under-explained “Gotcha!” crime caper involving strong-arm drug dealers and a murderous slum lord. With some clever editing, The Cobbler could be recut into a PG family comedy, or a raunchy Happy Madison laugher, but its lack of commitment to any one element makes all aspects fail miserably. There’s no cohesion to the humor, no narrative details worth your attention.
This is a movie so convoluted with half-pursued sort of stories that it assumes the sprawling, plotless feel of a movie like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, but without any insight into the types of people it portrays or the atmosphere it depicts. Instead, The Cobbler is comfortable in delivering caricatures, platitudes, and pratfalls in place of jokes. Every character is drawn so paper-thin they more closely resemble stereotypes than human beings. Adam Sandler is sad. Method Man is a criminal. Lynn Cohen is old. Ellen Barkin is a bitch. And Melonie Diaz has a heart of gold so maybe if Sandler plays his cards right he’ll get a kiss before the credits roll.
Among the many misguided choices made in The Cobbler, the strangest misfire is how the movie underuses Adam Sandler. When Max Simkin slips on someone else’s shoes, rather than have Sandler act like the other actors, more often it’s the lesser-known actors that play Sandler’s character pretending to be their character. I like Method Man fine as an actor. Sometimes he’s great (How High, HBO’s The Wire), sometimes he’s just ok (How High, Red Tails). But in a comedy as broad as The Cobbler wants to be, it’s simply funnier and easier to follow Adam Sandler pretending to be Method Man, than Meth attempt playing Sandler playing Meth.
Most of all, this is a sad misstep for Tom McCarthy. The writer/director of two indie gems (The Station Agent, The Visitor) as well as a co-writer on Pixar’s Up, most recently wrote the cloying Million Dollar Arm. My sincere hope is that The Cobbler doesn’t launch a Shyamalanian bottoming out of his work. McCarthy’s next film Spotlight is a promising drama about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandals starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McCadams and Mark Ruffalo. There exists a glimmer on the horizon. But no one should see The Cobbler, not even as a curiosity. It’s not a good-bad movie, it’s a bad-bad movie. The Cobbler is completely unsure of what it wants to be, or how to go about executing it.