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THE COBBLER is the story of Max (Adam Sandler), who is a fourth-generation cobbler in the lower east side of Manhattan. One day, when his stitcher blows a fuse, he is forced to use a manual-powered one that has been collecting dust in his shop basement. As he does, he discovers that it has magical powers to it. It allows Max to transform into the owner of the shoes he repairs, and to literally walk a mile in their shoes. But what to do with abilities like this?

Here’s the thing: For more than ten years now, we have continually complained about how much talent Adam Sandler is wasting. In 2002, Paul Thomas Anderson seemed to unlock something in Sandler with PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE. Since then, many of us have quietly been hoping that he would eventually get back there. Instead, Sandler has gone lower and lower-brow as the years have gone on…perhaps culminating (if that’s the right word) with him playing fraternal twin brother and sister in JACK AND JILL.

But y’know what? Why should we blame Sandler for staying in the shallow end?

Every time he decides to push himself a little bit, tone down his schtick and go for something more heartfelt, the project lets him down. I’m thinking about SPANGLISH, about FUNNY PEOPLE, about the upcoming MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, and about this outing in THE COBBLER. In all of these films, Sandler does what we want him to do and turns in something more tender and genuine. He shows that he is more than just a one-trick-pony, and that he can embody the sort of everyman cuts to the core of so many great comedic roles in history. However, when he does this, the material lets him down. These films are all badly written, badly directed, badly edited, or all of the above. He gets asked to be a team player, and the team lets him down.

THE COBBLER wants to be a modern faery tale, but it sails right past “whimsical” and goes straight to “silly”. It begins as a story about gentrification, legacy, and craftsmanship and then takes a hard left turn into dopey body-switching. The goodwill that Sandler builds up over the movie’s first thirty minutes evaporates, and we’re left feeling dumb for having trusted him…and for having trusted Sandler in the film.

At the end of the day, that’s not fair. Adam Sandler is the least thing wrong with THE COBBLER, and yet I fear he will become its lightning rod. When he does – when, not if – how can we blame him for retreating to the safety of lowbrow? Whenever he gambles, he places a losing bet so why should we blame him for picking up his chips and going home?

Thanks to THE COBBLER, I’d wager that Hollywood has just bought itself GROWN-UPS 3.