But "Click," his latest leaden vehicle, may indicate that the Sandler era is coming to a close. The gifts that have stood him in such good stead for years indifference to craft, boorishness, disengagement from his material are now turning against him. In a word, Sandler is showing signs of age.
When a star's youth is gone, it's good to have something else to fall back on, like an ability to act. But because Sandler's screen persona was built on a refusal to bother with all that technical junk, learning to act now not only would be difficult, but also would amount to something like a betrayal of his fan base. In "Click" he tries to chart a middle course by involving himself in a plot that purports to deal with real "issues" aging, family, work while still treating his role with his wonted negligence. Among the few realities offered by "Click" is that the whole thing is a bore and a mess.
Leaning heavily on "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol," "Click" shows us what happens when Sandler receives a magic remote control that allows him to revisit his past and to fast forward through portions of his life he'd rather not bother with arguments with his wife and kids, for example, or periods of waiting for a promotion at work. At first it's all fun and games, with Sandler doing things like using the pause button as an opportunity to pass gas into the frozen face of his obnoxious boss (David Hasselhoff, another holdover from an earlier era). As the film lurches past its midpoint, however, an unwelcome note of seriousness intrudes. Sandler discovers that by skipping everyday hassles he is, quite literally, losing his life. Vast gaps of years open up. Loved ones die or disappear while he is in his fast-forwarding limbo. Lessons about What's Truly Important loom menacingly on the horizon.
All this could have been acceptable had screenwriters Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe provided a pleasantly twisty time-travel plot or, barring that, good jokes. The laughs, however, are few. The lamentable feel of comic exhaustion is evident in the film's most lovingly repeated running gag, which involves a pet dog's attempt to mate with a large stuffed animal. The sentimental second half is pure corn and makes you long for the nuance and sophistication of Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle," which covers the same soggy ground in a mercifully brief four minutes.
At the center of things, naturally, is Sandler's character, a garden-variety jerk, a cipher whose failings, unlike Scrooge's, aren't interesting and whose virtues, unlike George Bailey's, touch no universal chords.
Our attention, therefore, is drawn to the periphery, where, likewise, it finds no purchase. As Sandler's long-suffering wife, Kate Beckinsale looks aggressively fit, but is otherwise unremarkable in her barely sketched-in role. Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner do fine as Sandler's neglected parents, but their portrayals are likely to be remembered (if at all) for their bizarre appearance in the flashbacks, in which a combination of makeup and computer-generated imagery is supposed to make them look young, but instead makes them seem like creepy animatronic versions of themselves. In accordance with custom, "SNL" refugees are allowed on-screen now and then to share in their more fortunate former colleague's glory.
As the mad inventor type who supplies Sandler with the remote, Christopher Walken, sporting a Richard Simmons hairdo, tries sporadically to liven things up mostly, it seems, by treating his role as a lark. He delivers his first lines as if imitating Kevin Spacey's now legendary Walken imitation. It's a cinch that 20 years down the line no one will be doing Adam Sandler imitations. It's the presence of a real actor, not some magic gizmo, that really ought to make Sandler think about getting his priorities straight, if it's not already too late. (PG-13) 98 min. ** S