Imagine for a moment you had the magical ability to transform into anyone else in the world by simply wearing a pair of their shoes. What would you do with this power?
In The Cobbler, Adam Sandler plays Max Simkin, a multi-generational “shoe man” who has inherited the family business (after his father mysteriously disappeared a decade ago), and isn’t enamored with it. He spends his days repairing shoes and having conversations with Jimmy, the barber next door (Steve Buscemi). At night, Max cares for his mother who suffers from dementia. One day when his modern shoe repair equipment breaks, Max is forced down to the basement to dig out an older, manual machine. After repairing a customer’s shoes and trying them on, he discovers that he has physically transformed into the customer. After a bit of experimentation he realizes that this magic works with any shoe that has been touched by this particular machine, and the transformation lasts as long as he is wearing both shoes.
At first Max uses his newfound power for some simple mischief. While wearing an Asian man’s shoes, he tours Chinatown. By taking two pairs of shoes with him to a restaurant and changing in the restroom, he skips out on a dinner check. It doesn’t take long for some immorality to creep in. When a supermodel drops off a pair of shoes that belong to her boyfriend, Max shows up at her apartment and almost has sex with her until he realizes that by removing the DJ’s shoes, he will transform back into plain old Max. The next day, after spying a random stranger with a sports car, Max robs the man of his shoes by wearing a black man’s shoes. Then, disguised as the stranger, he enjoys a night on the town in his car.
In perhaps his only well-meaning gesture, Max goes on a dinner date with his own mother while disguised as his missing father, giving her some closure to his father’s disappearance.
Things really don’t start moving until the second act, but when they do, they move in all the wrong directions. At this point the movie splits into two unrelated story lines. In the first, Max gets intertwined in the life of a rough customer named Leon (played by rapper Method Man), a wife-beating criminal with an expensive watch collection and a penchant for violence. Max also crosses paths with local activist Carmen Herrara (Melonie Diaz), who is trying to stop a group of individuals from gentrifying their block.
The leaps of faith, plot holes, dropped plot points, and perplexing “what the?” moments in this film will leave you feeling like you’ve been kicked in the head one too many times with one of Max’s shoes. Max does or experiences at least half a dozen things that make absolutely no sense, and are there purely to jar the story forward.
The third act is so ridiculous that it makes the second act look semi-logical. Which it’s not.
As someone who is studying professional writing, I can say The Cobbler is a great study in how not to write a story. About the third time Max gets into (or out of) a situation due to a random occurrence, I remembered why my professor said that was a bad idea. The plus side to the film is it shows where the bar is set for film scripts. Maybe I have a chance after all, and I won’t need magical shoes or Adam Sandler to make it.