Pause & Effect

Click may be the first Adam Sandler movie in which the high concept isn’t dependent upon the star. Sandler comedies tend to take his standard character — the petulant man-child with anger-management issues — and place him in different wacky places: elementary school (Billy Madison), the golf course (Happy Gilmore), the ’80s (The Wedding Singer), hell (Little Nicky). Here, he may get top billing, but the real star is the premise: A harried husband gains possession of a remote control with which he can master his universe. Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle or even Robin Williams could just as easily run with that idea, but Sandler has put his own stamp on things. He’s funny, if you like the sort of thing he does, but at times, his style seems discordant with the plot, which yearns for a more feel-good vibe than Sandler is willing to give.

Sandler plays it slightly more grown-up than usual as Michael Newman, a successful architect married to Kate Beckinsale with two kids. Like every movie father, he works too much. Stressed nearly to the breaking point and dependent on junk food — he works for David Hasselhoff, which would make you feel inadequate, too — Michael periodically lashes out in trademark Sandler style, often at children. W.C. Fields was Mary Poppins compared with Michael, who deliberately runs over the neighbor kid’s robot dog and later gets him in trouble by accusing him of smoking cigars. In real life, such behavior would be abhorrent, but onscreen it’s just wrong enough to be funny.

When Michael sits down to watch a video for work and can’t find the proper remote control, he drives to Bed Bath & Beyond to find a universal remote and encounters Christopher Walken. Like William Shatner, Walken by now is well aware of the frequency with which he is parodied, and he plays to the crowd here with gusto. There’s a little singing, a little dancing, a few strangely emphasized syllables, and suddenly Michael is in possession of a brand-new remote.

And what a remote it is: He can pause reality, fast-forward, skip whole chapters — even listen to a commentary track by James Earl Jones. Most men would dream of such a thing. But there are a few obvious catches: Michael can rewind but he cannot literally relive anything; he functions only as an observer of his memories. And if he skips or fast-forwards, his body goes on autopilot in the meantime, muttering the standard platitudes of the overworked and inattentive, which can get him in trouble later.

That’s not the worst of it. Like TiVo, the remote “learns” its user’s preferences and starts acting on them, fast-forwarding through every minor sickness, every fight — even every morning shower or commute. Soon, Michael is missing everything and propelled further and further into the future without getting to live the present. It’s a pretty good metaphor for alcohol and drugs: Use them as a crutch to get you through a difficult time, and before long, you can’t stop. Walken’s character compares Michael’s plight with that of Lucky the Leprechaun: “He’s always chasing the pot of gold, but when he gets there, at the end of the day, it’s just corn flakes.”

As things progress toward Click‘s inevitable climax, however, the pathos starts to build. Most of it is consistently leavened with jokes about bad liposuction or Sean Astin wearing a Speedo, but when things suddenly venture into It’s a Wonderful Life territory, you’ll need a moment to figure out whether the overdone sadness is supposed to be a joke. (It doesn’t appear to be.) Sandler can handle this kind of depth when directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love); here, however, he’s reunited with Frank Coraci (The Waterboy) — not a guy known for mature shtick. Not everything jells, but Click is funnier and more clever than anything Sandler has done in years.

Categories: Movies