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Pause and Effect

A truly universal remote leads to Sandler's best movie in years

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 of the petulant man-child with anger-management issues and place him in different wacky situations: elementary school (Billy Madison), the golf course (Happy Gilmore), the '80s (The Wedding Singer) and hell (Little Nicky). Here, he may get top billing, but the real star is the premise: a harried husband who 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 actual plot, which yearns for a more feel-good vibe than Sandler is willing to give. On the other hand, if the role had gone to Williams, the whole thing would have been coated in sugar.

Sandler plays it ever so 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, but mostly his family understands. Stressed to a near-breaking point and dependent on junk food -- he works for David Hasselhoff, which would make you feel inadequate, too -- Michael periodically lashes out with trademark Sandler-style immature outbursts, often directed at children. W.C. Fields was Mary Poppins compared to 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 on-screen it's just wrong enough to be funny.

So it's the final straw when Michael tries to sit down to watch a video for work and can't find the proper remote. In a frenzy, he drives to Bed Bath & Beyond to find a universal remote, but instead he encounters a door labeled simply "Beyond." Inside, he discovers an infinitely large warehouse right out of the Raiders of the Lost Ark end credits, presided over by Christopher Walken. Like William Shatner, Walken by now is well aware of the frequency with which he's parodied, and he plays to the crowd here with over-the-top 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, one that he is told he may not return even though it's free -- a gift, because "you seem like a good guy."

With his magic remote, Michael (Adam Sandler, right, with Christopher Walken) can skip whole chapters of his life.
Copyright 2004 Sony Pictures
With his magic remote, Michael (Adam Sandler, right, with Christopher Walken) can skip whole chapters of his life.

And what a remote it is: He can pause reality, fast-forward, skip whole chapters -- even listen to an audio 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 in 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 when he's in his right mind.

That's not the worst of it. Like TiVo, the remote "learns" its user's preferences and starts acting on them autonomously, 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 out the present. It's a pretty good metaphor for alcohol and drugs: Use them as a crutch "just this once," to get you through a difficult time, and before long you can't stop. Walken's character compares Michael's plight to 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 jobs 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 -- and 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), who is not a guy known for mature shtick. Not everything jells, but Click is funnier and more elaborately clever than anything Sandler's done in years.

 
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