Uneven comic fantasy from Thomas McCarthy, with Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler’s streak of inane comedies has offered audiences a load of cobblers in more than one sense; Sandler’s own name comes from the Hebrew word for 'sandle-maker'. So there’s an odd sense of self-reflection about the actor choosing to play a humble shoe-mender in this quaint urban fable from writer-director Thomas McCarthy, previously the quietly acerbic director of upmarket fare such as The Station Agent, The Visitor and Win Win.
When his sole-repairer blows a fuse in his New York store, Max Simkin (Sandler) uncovers a magical sewing machine during his search of the basement. Repairing shoes with the machine enables Max to become the spitting image of the footwear’s owner, right down to their clothes and accent. Testing the limits of his gift, Max impersonates bisexual playboy Emiliano (Dan Stevens), his own absent father Abraham (Dustin Hoffman) and arrogant local gangster Leon (Method Man), leading to complications with Leon’s murderous boss Elaine (Ellen Barkin).
A socially aware plotline proves to be the key element in The Cobbler’s uneven structure, which veers dramatically away from whimsy at times, as Max uses his disguise as Leon to defeat financial and criminal elements who threaten his neighbourhood; the always excellent Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station) has a thankless role here as a local community activist who improbably has the hots for Sandler. A final twist offers more emotional pay-off than the turf-war shenanigans, but neither resolves the issues created by Max's aspirational behaviour satisfyingly.
The Cobbler represents a return to form for Sandler at least; it’s entertaining, well-performed and milks an original idea that keeps the star off-screen for much of the runtime, a gamble unlikely to please his fans. But the depiction of women as either nagging mothers or sex-objects, and anyone other than heterosexual as weird, means that Sandler’s predictably simplistic comic targets mesh awkwardly with his director’s own sense of moral complication.
Selected release from Fri 31 Jul.