The fantasy premise is tantalizing. When re-soling shoes for a rough-and-tumble customer, Ludlow (Clifford Smith, aka Method Man), Max’s electrical machine breaks down. Fearing he won’t complete the job for the demanding Ludlow, he breaks out his father’s antique hand-cranked unit from storage. After all the effort, Ludlow doesn’t show at the end of the business day. Noting that the shoes are his size (10.5), Max slips them on and “becomes” Ludlow. Any size 10.5 shoes he repairs using his father’s antique machine will magically transform him into that person. He doesn’t have their memories or personality, just their exact appearance and voice.
Once disbelief is suspended, which is easy to do thanks to some clever, seamless editing by Tom McArdle, we sit and wait to find out in which direction The Cobbler will take us. It’s already clear from the semi-serious, 1903-set prologue, in which Max’s cobbler ancestors discuss the state of their profession, that it’s not going to be typical Sandler-based shenanigans. Too bad. What follows instead is a truly bizarre, complicated crime caper in which Max steps into Ludlow’s shoes and attempts to stop a heartless slumlord’s (Ellen Barkin) gentrification attempts. The confusing storytelling drags this 99-minute film to a slow grind.
There’s also a fair amount of questionable “humor” directed at various ethnic and gender groups. Some gooey sentimentality is also layered onto the ‘anything goes’ pile of ideas. Max lives with his mother Sarah (Lynn Cohen), whose dementia is worsening. In an attempt to bring a little happiness to her, Max steps into his long-deceased father’s shoes in order to give Sarah a blast from the past. Luckily things don’t go beyond dinner and dancing for this aging couple (who is, in actuality, mother and son). Max’s father, Abraham, is portrayed by none other than Dustin Hoffman, whose normally distinguished presence does little to elevate the jumbled material.
In terms of bonus features, the DVD includes a 15-minute featurette, “The Making of The Cobbler,” which is typical EPK fluff (according to the press materials, this is also the only bonus on the Blu-ray edition). As a fan of both Sandler and director Thomas McCarthy (who, in addition to the aforementioned films, wrote Disney’s sturdy family film Million Dollar Arm), I went into The Cobbler with an open mind. As it turns out, the film is an embarrassing blotch on their careers.