Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Capra Madison

This is the second in my Double Jeopardy series, in which I revisit films I may have liked too much, to see if they hold up. It runs on Tuesdays.

I know what you're thinking -- Was this whole Double Jeopardy series just so Vance could write about high-concept comedies, in which a fantastical plot device allows the protagonist to change his life in ways that at first seem desirable, but are ultimately undesirable? Last week Bedazzled, this week Click?

I promise, it's just a coincidence -- I won't make a habit of it.

Adam Sandler's production company is called Happy Madison. The name is a hybrid of Sandler's first two big-screen successes: Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. It seems a bit infantile to be so openly proud of those two movies, but then again, they're probably his two funniest movies, so have at it, Adam.

Every "Adam Sandler movie" that has been made since 1999 is a Happy Madison movie -- Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds, 50 First Dates, Anger Management, etc. Adam Sandler doesn't necessarily have to be in the movie for it to be an "Adam Sandler movie," as movies like The Hot Chick, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star and Paul Blart: Mall Cop also fall under the Happy Madison label. Similarly, Sandler appears in movies that are not "Adam Sandler movies," and not produced by Happy Madison, such as Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People. The movie I crapped on (sight unseen) last Friday, Grown Ups, is the consummate Happy Madison movie, as it features not only Sandler, but the stars of The Hot Chick, Dickie Roberts and Paul Blart as well.

If Happy Madison is a hybrid of Sandler's two formative successes, then Click is a different kind of hybrid. It's a mixture of a Happy Madison movie and, surprisingly, a Frank Capra movie. Hence, Capra Madison.

And like Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds and 50 First Dates, none of which I've seen, I probably would not have seen Click if I hadn't made it the second half of a "sneak into the second" double feature. Around the time the movie came out, four years ago, I was working in the IT department of a restaurant company, and was sent out to a site about an hour east of Los Angeles, to fix a cash register or something. The site is right next to a multiplex, so I decided to extend my workday by four hours, since I always love seeing movies in unfamiliar locations. First I saw the Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock weepie The Lake House, then I stayed for Click.

I don't know which one I was expecting to like more, but Click was the clear winner.

In the review I wrote at the time, I commented that the idea of a remote control that controls real life had taken a particularly long time to come to the screen -- and that Click was a thoroughly satisfying realization of the concept. But it doesn't start out that way. In fact, the first 20-30 minutes represent some of the worst instincts of the worst Happy Madison movies. Rob Schneider, disguised under heavy makeup, plays a wet t-shirt-loving Middle Eastern prince named Habeeboo, whose name everyone constantly mispronounces. Sandler's Michael Newman screams at a bunch of teenagers playing with fireworks and jumps a fence to try to beat them up. And a recurring joke is that the family dog loves humping a duck stuffed animal that's the same size as he is.

During this interminable lead-in to the good stuff, I could feel the uncertainty mounting in my wife, on the couch next to me. I wondered if the film's second and third acts could possibly redeem the first.

Once again, they did.

At a certain point in the movie, the remote control starts following Michael's past preferences. Michael once told the remote to fast forward to his next promotion, which he expected to be just a couple months off. Now, the remote wants to fast forward to his subsequent promotion -- however far off that may be. Ditto for the times Michael wanted to fast forward through sex and through being sick -- just that one time in both instances, but the remote programs it as a preference that supersedes all else.

So it's at this point that the movie moves away from boob jokes and fart jokes -- Sandler hitting slow-mo to watch the bouncing boobs of a jogger, and hitting pause to fart in his boss' face -- and becomes a sublime examination of the risk of sleeping through our lives, and missing the details that make it worth living. This is where the Frank Capra part kicks in -- most literally, It's a Wonderful Life. With assistance from a guardian angel figure, played by Christopher Walken (more on him in a minute), Michael gets to see his future life if he continues on his current trajectory. But he's not just witnessing it -- he's living it. And it's moving forward at a speed he can't control.

Sure, there's some shtick here too -- at one point, Michael's weight doubles, the end result of his steady junk food diet. To director Frank Coraci's credit, though, this scene does not get milked for laughs and is relatively short. This scene also highlights the technical reasons for seeing the film -- it was nominated for an Oscar for its makeup effects, which are sometimes quite astonishing.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for movies where characters age into imperfect futures that are passing through their fingers like running water, because the second half of Click really gets me. Fast-forwarding into Michael's future surprised me, because the ads had just shown the bouncing jogger boobs, and Michael slapping the paused face of his boss (a hammy David Hasselhoff). This should be no surprise, because the ads were trying to win the Happy Madison crowd only. But Click has so much more to offer than mere Happy Madison shtick. Some of the events of Michael's future are as touching and as delicately handled as anything you would want to see in a sensitive drama. And if I wasn't sure I was right about this the first time, I knew it the second -- especially when I heard my wife sniffling back some tears. I did her the courtesy of not embarrassing her by drawing attention to an emotional moment that surely caught her by surprise.

The reason more people probably did not like Click was that there was too much Capra for the Happy Madison crowd, and too much Happy Madison for the Capra crowd. As hybrids go, Click is probably more diametrically divided than most you will see -- but its good parts really do elevate the bad ones, rather than the bad parts dragging the good ones down to their level.

I said I'd get back to Christopher Walken. Walken is a full-on comedic performer at this point in his career, and Click is one of the funniest performances he's given. As the inventor of the remote control, who guides Michael through his journey -- an employee of the "Beyond" department at Bed, Bath & Beyond -- Walken's Morty is simply hilarious, his line deliveries always worthy of a good chuckle, no matter what he's saying. He may be what pushes Click over the top, saving it from its weaker comic instincts with a gonzo performance that's in a category all its own. But to continue the hybrid metaphor, Morty also has a dark side, which serves that part of the story well -- to chilling effect, at certain points.

Double Jeopardy Verdict, Click: If only half of a movie is going to be good, you're always better off with it being the second half -- and because it's usually the other way around, the movie leaves a better impression than many of the scores of films that have strong beginnings and weak finishes. The second and third acts elevate this film into a recommended high-concept escapist dramedy, one that's actually touching, and not as funny as you might think it's trying to be.

Whether that last comment qualifies as a selling point or a detractor depends on what side of the Capra/Madison divide you find yourself.

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