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Dustin Putman

The Cobbler  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Tom McCarthy.
Cast: Adam Sandler, Cliff 'Method Man' Smith, Steve Buscemi, Melonie Diaz, Ellen Barkin, Dustin Hoffman, Lynn Cohen, Dan Stevens, Kim Cloutier, Yul Vazquez, Dascha Polanco, Joey Plotnick, Fritz Weaver, Glenn Fleshler, Greta Lee, Kevin Breznahan, Donnie Keshawarz, Grizz Chapman, Sondra James, Fabrizio Brienza, Craig Walker, Cliff Samara.
2015 – 98 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for some violence, language and brief partial nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, May 12, 2015.
The premise of "The Cobbler" sounds like another broad, goofball Adam Sandler comedy, a fantastical variation on 2008's "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" revolving around shoe repair rather than hairdressing. With writer-director Tom McCarthy's (2011's "Win Win") more observant, character-oriented sensibilities, however, the film balances its comical whimsy with a welcome edginess and restraint—a sort of real-world fantasy, if you will. Sandler (2014's "Men, Woman & Children") is quite appealing when he's playing things in a low-key register, and this is certainly the case with his role as Max Simkin, a lonely fourth-generation cobbler who has taken over his estranged father's (Dustin Hoffman) shoe repair shop on New York's Lower East Side. When his stitching machine malfunctions and he starts to use an antique model in the basement, he is dumbfounded to discover it has the power to physically transform him into the owner of each pair of mended shoes he puts on. Max goes too far at first in taking advantage of his magical powers—he robs one guys on the street for his shoes, and later poses as a suave neighbor (Dan Stevens) in an attempt to pick up a woman—but the longer he lives with his abilities, the better he begins to see the error of his ways and understands the responsibility connected to them.

Co-written by Paul Sado, "The Cobbler" carries the frothy tone and sneakily darker edges of Woody Allen's comedic oeuvre. Max's behavior is ethically suspect early on as he tests the limits of his newfound capabilities, but by the second half his move toward trying to do good gives him a redemptive backbone. Subplots involving ruthless criminal Leon Ludlow (Cliff 'Method Man' Smith), shady slumlord Elaine Greenawalt (Ellen Barkin), sweet-natured community worker Carmen Herrara (a radiant Melonie Diaz), and Max's caring elderly mother (Lynn Cohen) take the narrative in a number of intriguing directions that continue to rejuvenate its path. More easily predicted is the would-be twist ending, while last-minute explanations of the stitching machine's powers and the reason why his dad walked out on the family years ago are more lame than cohesive. The core story hook may be preposterous, but what best resonates in "The Cobbler" are its human slice-of-life elements and the big-city, blue-collar milieu in which it is set. Through it all, Sandler is terrific as the introverted Max, finding a voice to call his own that has nothing to do with the ones he adopts when he walks a mile in his customers' shoes.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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