Point and Click; Vengeance a Dish Served Frozen
By Fernando F. Croce

Is Adam Sandler beneath serious analysis? Not to me -- in the long run, the critically dreaded frat-house jester of Happy Gilmore and "The Hanukkah Song" will make for a much more interesting study than Jim Carrey and Robin Williams. Where his fellow jokers (and box-office pashas), behind the smarmy "edginess," are continuously pushing the audience's love-buttons, Sandler has the pockets of the clown's baggy pants stuffed with obsessions, a bitter, pent-up aggression to go with the dick jokes, horny animals, and '80s soundtrack that inevitably populate his unique movies. In the seesawing act of elf-voiced whimsy and barely shrouded rage lies the legacy of Jerry Lewis, and, as with Lewis, he may need to relocate to La Cinémathèque Française to grab the deserved appreciation: Punch-Drunk Love made him semi-acceptable to reviewers, but his films are still given little critical attention and even less critical thought. Click is Sandler's new comedy, dollying out from TV static to spot the star sprawled on the living room couch; some ten summers ago he would have been a slacker in his parents' home, now he's a hurried family man and a successful architect, his voice is lower and his body is bulkier, the O'Doyles from Billy Madison have moved next door. Sandler, Gen-X's perpetually adolescent Puck, gets actually called an "old man," and to keep up with technology he wanders into the "Beyond" section of Bed Bath & Beyond to receive from wacky doc Christopher Walken a magic wand: An universal remote control with the power to monitor life.

The epiphany comes as Sandler points the remore at his dog and turns down the barking volume; from there it's ecstatic experimentation with tints and languages, but the hero's favored feature remains the fast-forward button, which allows him to skip past traffic, family gatherings and arguments with his wife, Kate Beckinsale. Life as a special-edition DVD, in other words, complete with chapter stops and James Earl Jones commentary, though the clicker starts going TiVo on the character and uncontrollably zipping through the years, then decades -- his sweet tooth balloons him to sumo dimensions, his daughter grows tits, Beckinsale has divorced him and married somebody else, dad (Henry Wrinkler) dies; Sandler watches all with growing horror and impotence as Click suddenly reaps hints of Capra and Spielberg, and of Goethe and Vonnegut. A fascinating film, with an unresolved comedy/tragedy axis: Sandler pauses the action so he can jump onto the table and plant a fart blast on boss David Hasselhoff's kisser, but is unable to keep the sped-up passage of time from propelling him into old-age makeup and mortality in the rain. The gadget that allows rampant responsibility-dodging is aimed straight at a culture's lethargic narcissism, the critique enriched by the film's own immersion in consumerism -- twinkies, TV shows, plastic surgery, Walken's metaphor employing a cornflakes-shilling TV character. Frank Coraci, who directed Sandler in The Wedding Singer and The Waterboy, handles duties, although all auteurist interest lands strictly on Sandler, again providing unexpected emotional depth that shames the egotism of Steve Carrell and the "Frat Pack."

*

The emotionalism of Click will predictably get razzies from reviewers, who are busy circle-jerking Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. No danger of critical underrating here: Park Chan-wook's final entry in his "revenge trilogy" by now has spilled more than enough fan-boy ink to match the copious flow of blood that's been his trademark. Sure, the filmmaker's torch-bearers insist his violence is the tool chosen to explore the characters' churning furies, conveniently sidestepping Park's hollowness and his incoherence, the better to relish the whipped cream of sadistic titillation while supposedly getting a simultaneous fill of art-house cough-syrup. It takes a clever director to orchestrate such frenzied drooling, and throughout Lady Vengeance Park is nothing if not cunning in his string-pulling -- it kicks off on a fastidiously facetious note, a batch of Santy Clauses serenading Lee Yeong-ae, the "angel" just released from prison, with gospel and a brick of tofu all but stamped with "Purity" on its side. No whiteness for her yet: After 13 years surrounded by cartoon dykes in jail, she is out for payback against the child-killer who's kidnapped her daughter and blackmailed her to take the rap for him. Cue harpsichord tinkling and Park's by-now excruciatingly familiar film-school bag o' tricks, wanton shifts in stock and angle, a gliding camera, compositional symmetry and scrambled narrative, the whole "darkness of the soul" fondue, poured heavily. And dreams, natch: the villain's head is glued to a dog's body, then shot apart.

Ms. Vengeance later on tests her hand-cannon for real on a puppy's forehead. Any movie that includes canine gunning automatically gets on my bad side, but the moment is meant as one of many interweaving motifs in Park's universe, like the way the same characters (or at least the same actors) keep leaping from film to film (Choi Min-sik, the anguished avenger from Oldboy, plays the murderer this time around). Lee decorates cakes at a bakery (called "Naruse" for the hipster in all of us), though her mind is racing along the contours of her "magnificent new plan," which takes a detour to reclaim her baby from her adopted Australian family before dragging Choi to an abandoned warehouse for -- damn it, you guessed it -- a dollop of torture. "Atonement" is what it is all about, we're repeatedly told, and yet there's no filmmaker today less spiritually inclined than the chortling Park, who talks Sin and Salvation while spending all his creative energies on debasing gags and sneering wide-angle shots. The heroine crouches in her cell to pray as the scene nudges teeters from the kitschy glow emanating around her; an overhead shot surveys the gory mess after she's sliced her finger as an apology to the dead boy's parents, then she's seen with her pinky-less hand smirkily bandaged, as much of a part of the film's sardonic design as her blood-red eye-shadow. After all this, Park has the balls to hack away at M for his climax, with the families of the murdered children huddled together to have their bloodlust lubricated by kiddie snuff videos; Lang and Losey posited moral inquiries, but Park prefers to laugh at his lioness, abandoned to phony snow and phonier redemption.

*

How long now before a documentary on clipping toe nails? Wordplay is a shoutout to crossword meisters everywhere, or, more specifically, the ones gathering around The New York Times and NPR Master Will Shortz -- sort of Sean Connery of the wordsmith-nerd sect, so to speak, pointing the narrative toward the 28th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Connecticut. Director Patrick Creadon has faith in his subjects' brainy passion, but not enough to resist sweetening the pot with celebrity yakking from Jon Stewart and the Indigo Girls to Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, all breezy and funny while scribbling into boxes going down and across. Seriously, people: crossword puzzles? The more popular the documentary genre becomes, the more trivial it turns; whatever interesting subtext lurks here is left unexplored in favor of cuteness preached to the chorus, who will get flattering recognition out of the dilemma that is choosing pens over pencils. As someone who does not even realize there's a World Cup going on, however, I appreciate the respect for brains over brawn, especially following Murderball's pernicious suggestion of healing through jockish aggression. What's an eight-letter word for bovine feces?


Reviewed June 29, 2006.

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