What exactly does Adam Sandler have against Frank Capra? After trashing one of the director’s iconic works of Americana with a gruesome remake of “Mr. Deeds” in 2002, he continues his rampage by turning on the even more beloved “It’s a Wonderful Life” with this ghastly piece about a guy who learns life lessons by trying to glide over the bad parts of his existence. The problem with “Click” is that the movie has virtually no good parts you’ll want to keep; it’s a gimmicky one-joke effects comedy that’s even worse when it tries to be sweet, fuzzy and–heaven help us–instructive about what’s really important.
It’s easy to imagine the premise of the picture–focusing on a harried, overworked husband and father getting hold of a magical remote with which he can slow down, speed up or stop the real world around him (and fiddle with sound levels, too)–serving as the basis for a mediocre TV sitcom, a sort of “Bewitched” for the technical age. But though for a few reels Sandler and scripters Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe are pretty much content to milk the idea in the most obvious way by resorting to the hoariest cinematic devices–slow-mo, fast forward, freeze-frame (punctuated, one might add, by an orgy of product-placement inserts)–it’s not long before they set their sights higher, in the Capraesque sense, by having the device take over to skip blocks of years and teach the fellow that he should have stopped and smelled the roses along the way. Unhappily, the odor of flowers isn’t what viewers are going to sniff emanating from the screen.
It’s hard to decide which part of this unsavory brew is worse–the coarse, arrested-development humor in which Sandler specializes, and which demonstrates over and over again how low supposed “family entertainment” has sunk in today’s society (lots of sniggering sexual innuendo, fart jokes, a streak of crass ethnic gags, and–most appalling–a running gag about a dog humping a stuffed toy), or the extra-schmaltzy “message.” That’s where architect Michael Newman (Sandler) serves as what’s become the stockest of characters in today’s comedies, the dad whose overbearing boss (here smirking, insufferable David Hasselhoff, whose company talk on sexual harassment is particularly offensive) makes such extreme demands that his time with his family (wife Donna, played flatly by Kate Beckinsale, and wise-cracking tykes Ben and Samantha, played by cute-as-buttons Joseph Castanon and Tatum McCann) is severely crimped. (It’s the same character Robin Williams just did in “R.V.”)
The demands at work and home seem to be solved when Michael goes on a late-night search for a universal remote and winds up in a weird backroom section of Bed Bath and Beyond, where a very peculiar fellow named Morty (Christopher Walken, doing his usual shtick under a mop of frazzled hair), gives him the device that, he finds, can control the world as well as electronics. It’s not long before he’s misusing it to rid himself of unpleasantries, and since it programs itself on the basis of past choices, it’s not long before Michael is thrust forward in time to find his marriage collapsed, his wife remarried to a swim coach (Sean Astin), his kids (Jonah Hill, then Jake Hoffman, and Lorraine Nicholson, then Katie Cassidy) grown, his mother (Julie Kavner) aged, and his father (Henry Winkler) dead–and himself bloated to three hundred or so pounds. (Fat-suits seem obligatory in comedies nowadays, too.) In the tradition of movies like this, of course, after suffering all these disasters Michael must have a second chance, having learned his lesson. (What will happens to him professionally is, of course, never addressed.)
The first few reels of “Click” are pretty ho-hum stuff, ambling along without much energy and introducing incidental characters one would have been very happy to do without–Donna’s oversexed friend Janine (played with the usual shrieking intensity by Jennifer Cooolidge), Michael’s mousy secretary Alice (Rachel Dratch, who endures a particularly embarrassing narrative twist at the end), an obnoxious neighbor kid (Cameron Monaghan) whom Newman regularly humiliates, a weird Bed Board and Beyond clerk (Nick Swardson). Then the remote takes over and the narrative deconstructs into a series of isolated self-pity episodes dominated by mediocre aging makeup and spasms of cheap sentimentality. Throughout it all Sandler, abetted by Frank Coraci’s laissez-faire direction, shouts his lines like a desperate stand-up comic waiting for laughs (or lumps in the throat) that never come. The rest of the cast is equally unsubtle (with tykes Castenon and McCann especially annoying sitcom kids, the effect exacerbated by entirely too many extreme close-ups), and technically the movie is at best okay.
It goes pretty much without saying that the best way to watch “Click,” should you really need to, will be when it’s released on DVD and you’ll have the same capacity for speeding through it via your remote that Mike Newman has in the movie. Life’s too short to sit in a theater and suffer through it in real time.