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Family Movie Review: The Cobbler (PG-13)

TheCobbler ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 99 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film is about a magical sole-stiching machine that allows a cobbler to transform into other people; this sets up various scenarios in which he tries to have sex with women but always fails (a woman stands naked in a shower, and you see the outline of her chest), in which he becomes involved with a hitman and alternately beats him up and gets beaten up; some cursing; some drinking; some characters die; there is a running zombie gag; and the discussion of domestic abuse.

Full of cultural and racial stereotypes and with the most falsely-feel-good ending imaginable, ‘The Cobbler’ fails to make any of the emotional connections for which it’s so desperately grasping. It’s a mix of condescension and irresponsibility.

By Roxana Hadadi

How much cultural and racial stereotypes can fit into one film? So many, if that film is “The Cobbler.”

Directed and written by Thomas McCarthy (responsible for last year’s irritatingly cloying “Million Dollar Arm”) and starring Adam Sandler (responsible for countless dollars wasted at the movie theaters as of late, including last year’s awful “Blended”), “The Cobbler” is a strange mess of a movie. It’s about the Jewish community, but its depiction is pitifully simplistic: there’s a flashback scene where characters speak Yiddish, there is fiddle music playing throughout the present-day sequences, and there’s a discussion about an angelic visitor which sounds like it could be based in folklore, but McCarthy layers all the obvious stuff on without ever going deeper. He’s trafficking in the most-simplistic descriptions of a community instead of honoring them.

Add to that the other stereotypes at play here (a black villain who antagonizes the protagonist for no reason, is obsessed with gaudy jewelry, and beats his girlfriend; a good-looking European man who may or may not be gay) and it feels like “The Cobbler” is drowning in its own misconceptions. And yet this is a movie that wants to be all about teaching moments, about looking inside yourself to find strength and goodness—so yes, it’s pretentious, too.

The focus on “The Cobbler” is on Max (Sandler, of “Blended”), a sad sack of a man who does absolutely nothing to hide his weariness. He works at a shoe-repair store in the Lower East Side of New York City that was owned by his father, who walked out on him and his mother years ago, and he seems to exist in a fog of his own creation. The neighborhood, which used to be full of craftsmen and tradesmen like his ancestors, is changing around him—stores and apartments being sold, richer people moving in—but he doesn’t really notice or care, not even when pretty community activist Carmen (Melonie Diaz) tries to inspire his interest. Every day, he goes to work; he talks to the barber Jimmy (Steve Buscemi, of “Grown Ups 2”), who operates the storefront next to him; he lusts after the pretty model-type who moved into an apartment building on the same block; and he returns home to take care of his mother, who is sick with dementia. It’s not an interesting life.

Until Max realizes, after a terribly nasty interaction with the goonish, threatening customer Ludlow (Method Man, of “Red Tails”), that the sole-stitching machine in his family’s shoe-repair business has the magical ability to transform him into the owner of the shoes that were fixed with the equipment. After slipping on Ludlow’s outrageously expensive loafers, Max turns into him; then a pair of red high-heels turns him into a drag queen; then another pair of shoes turns him into a black teenager; then a pair turns him into a rich one-percenter with a fancy sports car; then another pair turns him into a zombie-like corpse; then an Asian man (leading to a terrible joke about Chinese accents, naturally); and on and on and on. Every new pair of shoes is a new life for Max to inhabit (steal?), and soon it feels like the only way to escape from the drudgery of his own existence—until his obsession mixes him up with some very bad people, involving him in various crimes, an assassination attempt, and a last-ditch effort to clean up his mistakes and realize who he really is.

Who Max really is, though, is a criminal, and the most frustrating part of “The Cobbler” is its muddled ethical message. Don’t worry, the black villain is horrible in every way (rude, domineering, superficial, materialistic, violent against those weaker than him and those he claims to love), but he pays a price for his crimes; Max, who consistently attempts to sleep with women while pretending to be other people, who steals a man’s car, who ignores his own responsibilities, who lies about who he is over and over again … he’s basically a superhero! He is, as a sympathetic character tells him, “the guardian of soles” (and also “souls,” get it?)! It’s that double standard, employed by the film over and over again, that rankles the most.

That’s not to say that the script or performances are good, because it isn’t and they aren’t. Sandler sleep-walks through as the main character, only seeming to come alive when he spars with Carmen about saving the neighborhood (his sarcastic “Maybe you should check with me first, make sure I want to stay” is his best delivery in the film), and Method Man overacts to perhaps make up for Sandler’s lack of enthusiasm. To be fair, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Barkin, and Buscemi are fine, but they don’t bother elevating the material—which is unfortunate, given how particularly awfully written and barely realized Hoffman’s and Barkin’s characters are.

At one point in “The Cobbler,” someone says to Max, “It’s a privilege to walk in another man’s shoes … but it’s also a responsibility,” and aside from the cribbing of a legendary Spider-Man line, the dialogue belies the film’s own confusion about itself. Was this supposed to be a film about the changing environment of New York City? Or a superhero origin story? Or an observation of Jewish and Yiddish culture? Or a cautionary folk tale about self-worth? “The Cobbler” feels like all of these and none of these, a failure in both theory and execution.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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