I am fascinated by Adam Sandler’s career. More specifically, I’m fascinated by Sandler when he decides to challenge himself with more “serious” roles, or at least work with directors that aren’t Dennis Dugan. Sandler has two movies at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The first is Jason Reitman’s ‘Men, Women and Children,’ in which Sandler gives what is the most understated performance of his career. The second is Thomas McCarthy’s ‘The Cobbler,’ which is bone-headedly awful.

I like it when Sandler attempts to be interesting. Also, I greatly enjoyed McCarthy’s ‘Win Win,’ so I promise that I desperately wanted to like ‘The Cobbler.’ Hoo boy, this one…

Sandler plays Max, who, like the title implies, is a cobbler. He runs a shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, taking over for his father (Dustin Hoffman), who left Max and his mother years ago. One day, a bully (Method Man) drops off his shoes for new soles. Max’s threading machine breaks, forcing him to use an old pedal-powered machine from the basement. Anyway, long story short, if Max uses this machine, then wears the newly repaired shoes, he becomes a clone of whomever owns those shoes.

Now, this scenario could have led to a story that was sweet and simple and forgettable. That would have been the preferable option. Max uses his newfound powers to turn himself into an African American man and run out on a check at a restaurant. He then uses the powers to turn himself into an even bigger African American man so that he can mug another man for his shoes. Max also likes to turn himself into a transgendered woman and there are a lot of jokes about that, too. This is all terrible for obvious reasons.

There’s even a scene in which Max turns into his own father and spends a romantic night with his mother. This is meant to be sweet, but comes off as disturbing.

Eventually, Max decides to turn back into Method Man’s character in an attempt to rob him of his expensive watch collection. There’s also a subplot about a Lower East Side man refusing to move out of his apartment building that a powerful real estate tycoon (Ellen Barkin) is trying to purchase. There’s really no rhyme or reason to this movie when it’s not being offensive. The ending of this movie, which I won’t spoil, is actually one of the most peculiar I’ve seen in quite some time. I actually wish the whole movie would have been like this ending.

The thing is, I want Sandler to keep trying interesting roles. He seems to have a habit of trying, then it doesn’t work, then another ‘Grown Ups’ is released. Even though ‘The Cobbler’ is a complete misfire, I don’t want Sandler to be discouraged. There’s another ‘Punch Drunk Love’ waiting for him somewhere, but, boy, ‘The Cobbler’ sure isn’t going to be it.


Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.