If the Hollywood movie system sank into the sea, and indie flicks were the only ones left to watch, we’d be passing some pretty grim hours with dismal Sundance duds like “Brick” and “Down in the Valley.” Hollywood has an honorable purpose — well, a useful one, anyway — and if there were more high-concept, star-driven mainstream comedies crafted with the cheery, professional cleverness of “Click,” the world might be, if not a better place, at least a somewhat more entertaining one.
This movie’s concept is so highly distilled, you could scribble it on one side of a Post-it Note and still have room on the back for a bullet-point bio of its star, Adam Sandler. He plays Michael Newman, a work-frazzled architect who slaves endless hours at his firm in pursuit of a partnership that’s kept dangling just out of reach by his oily boss, Ammer (David Hasselhoff). In his obsession with advancement, Michael tends to neglect his beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and their two winsome kids, for whom he’s forever failing to build a tree house or show up at athletic events. Consumed with a desire to insure a better life for them in the future, he’s robbing them of the family life they could have here and now.
Among the things that get on Michael’s frayed nerves is the plethora of remote controls scattered around his living room. Every time he wants to change TV channels, he seems to pick up the wrong one, and suddenly the ceiling fans start to whirl, the garage door goes rolling up, or the nippers’ toy cars and helicopters come leaping to life. At his wits’ end, he sets out one night to find and buy a universal remote that will bring order to this domestic electrical chaos. It’s late, though, and after cruising the local retail thoroughfares, he finds that the only store still open (and suddenly doing big-time business in movie product-placement) is Bed, Bath & Beyond. As you may know, this home-furnishings chain doesn’t actually trade in consumer electronics; but after sparring with a pixilated BB&B employee (Nick Swardson, the gay roommate in “Art School Confidential,” and one of the funniest characters in the film), Michael makes his way to an obscure door in the back of the store that bears a single word: “Beyond.”
Inside, he finds Morty, a mad scientist complete with lab coat, bow tie, shock-permed hair and a worktable full of inscrutable tools and tinkerings. (This ambiguous oddball could perhaps only be played — and therefore is — by Christopher Walken.) Morty hands Michael a slick-looking new universal remote-control handset (made by Sony, which is also releasing this movie) that turns out to deliver way more than Michael bargained for — it allows him to literally control his universe. Soon he’s lowering the volume on barking dogs and jabbering acquaintances, fast-forwarding through an argument with his wife, using the language selector to eavesdrop on some Japanese architectural clients and putting his boss on pause in order to give him a few good bitch-slaps. Next, he discovers he can skip whole chapters of his life, and thus need no longer suffer through boring dinners with his parents (Henry Winkler and Julie Kavner). And when he hits the main-menu button, he can see his entire world, all the way back to childhood — with commentary, too, provided by James Earl Jones.
All of this is worked out with considerable invention. And when the story reaches the natural limit of its high concept (around the time Michael starts using the color control on his magical remote to do Hulk impressions), it segues smoothly into a sub-Dickensian mode, something akin to “A Christmas Carol,” with Morty serving as all three of the ghosts of past, present and future. When Michael fast-forwards too far ahead in his life, he finds that he’s become a middle-aged fat man, and that his wife has left him. After fast-forwarding way too far, he awakes to find himself an old man at death’s door, with his son, Ben (Jake Hoffman), a now-grown architect himself, sitting by his hospital bed and telling him he’s decided to cancel a honeymoon with his new bride in order to deal with a business problem. Michael, tragically aware at last of the many mistakes he’s made in this area, is horrified. But being near death, what can he do?
“Click” holds no surprises for anyone familiar with sentimental mainstream Hollywood comedies. The pleasure of the movie is in watching it work out pretty much the way you’d hope it would. The writers, Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe (and presumably Sandler, too), have fueled the picture with snappy patter and some sharp situational humor, and the director, Frank Coraci, who also worked with Sandler on “The Waterboy” and “The Wedding Singer,” knows how long to let a laugh line linger, and when to shift emotional gears. Also notable are the makeup effects created by the great Rick Baker. It’s one thing to transform a young character into a wrinkly senior citizen — we’ve seen it, thanks. But aging a character by just a decade or so — from, say, 35 to 45 — is a subtler thing, and Baker brings it off with remarkable delicacy. You can sense that there’s been a change, but looking at the slightly altered face up on the screen, you may not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is.
“Click” is a well-made movie, and a pretty funny one. Adam Sandler is sweet, in his trademark way, and there are no flare-ups of the broad whininess that non-admirers find so irritating. It’s a movie with a message, of course, and it’s a Hollywood message — which doesn’t necessarily make it contemptible. But we hear it coming long before Michael realizes how badly he’s screwed things up in his pursuit of wealth and his determination to sidestep all of life’s little annoyances. As Morty explains, it’s not weird science that’s wrecked Michael’s existence: “You were fast-forwarding through life long before you met me.”
“Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man”: Master Class
There can’t be many songwriters who don’t slump in defeated wonderment before the lyrical grace of Leonard Cohen. In this unvarnished concert documentary, shot by the Australian filmmaker Lian Lunson at the Sydney Opera House in January 2005, U2 guitarist the Edge attributes to Cohen “an almost biblical authority.” Singer Bono says, “He’s our Shelley, our Byron.” Possibly they overstate the case; possibly the opposite.
The concert was a Cohen tribute, organized by that invaluable record producer and cultural archivist Hal Willner. It brought together a disparate group of musicians — including Rufus Wainwright, Beth Orton, Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Teddy Thompson and Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons), along with U2 — to perform 13 of this great artist’s many great songs. Apart from some offstage interview material, and a number of mesmerizing conversational interludes with Cohen himself, that’s pretty much it. The stage set is minimal, the lighting is basic, and since we don’t see much of the band (which includes fiddles, accordion, a glockenspiel and even a musical saw), our attention is entirely focused on the performers, a few of whom are extraordinary. And through them, of course, we are able to contemplate the magical, compressed eloquence of Leonard Cohen’s words.
Rufus Wainwright, for example, a playfully sardonic performer and a true star, brings just the right rueful tone to “Everybody Knows”:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
And if we must hear someone besides Cohen himself sing “Hallelujah,” that breathtaking celebration of the sacred within the profane, then it might as well be Wainwright:
But remember when I moved in you
And the Holy Ghost was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
Nick Cave offers a jaunty, if not particularly illuminating, reading of “I’m Your Man,” and a shambling rendition of “Suzanne” — that anthem of every bookworm who’s ever wanted to score with a hot chick. (“You’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.”) Beth Orton contributes a serviceable take on the beautiful “Sisters of Mercy,” and then joins Jarvis Cocker for a run-through of the marvelous “Death of a Ladies’ Man.” (“I’ll never see a face like yours in years of men to come / I’ll never see such arms again in wrestling or in love.”)
The high point of the show, however, at least until U2 comes on, is provided by Antony Hegarty. Wearing some sort of ripped fishnet smock over a white shirt, with his now-darkened hair swaying around his shoulders and his body fidgeting to some mysterious inner rhythm, this extraordinary singer all but disappears into “If It Be Your Will,” rising back up again only at the end, when the song builds to a resounding gospel-style climax. Another true star.
Then U2 comes on, and we are forced to contemplate once again the possibility that there may not be anything of a musical nature that these guys can’t do pretty darn well. Here, they back Leonard Cohen himself, which would seem to be an impossibility — the world-conquering arena-rock band and the 70-year-old Zen-monk recluse? The tune is another of Cohen’s little classics, called “Tower of Song,” and he sings it — or intones it, rather — while standing in sublime stillness in front of the band. Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., lay back on bass and drums, Bono mans a minimalist synthesizer, and the Edge ornaments Cohen’s murmurous phrases with whispery slide-guitar lines. It’s a consciously small and eerily gorgeous performance, especially when Bono weighs in with a low-key backing vocal toward the end. Worth the price of admission, as they say.
Leonard Cohen’s work, from the beginning of his creative life (“when I prayed to have some response to the things I thought were beautiful,” as he recalls), has been a documentation of his passage through this world on his way to the next one, such as that may be. Given his advanced age, there’s an unavoidably elegiac tone to this film. But Cohen leaves one last candle lit as his performance with U2 comes to a close:
Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me, baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song
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