on June 23, 2006 by Mark Keizer
"Click," in which Adam Sandler plays an architect who finds a universal remote that can control time, requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Seriously, Adam Sandler as an architect? The other, more pressing, problem is that the film starts as yet another slice of Adam Sandler juvenilia, but then takes an awkward 180, becoming a morose, syrupy and moralistic spin on "It's a Wonderful Life." And with the exception of Brett Ratner, who directed the similarly themed "The Family Man," no filmmaker is less qualified to make us forget Frank Capra than Frank Coraci. He and Sandler's unconvincing brand of sincerity took nascent form in their first collaboration "The Wedding Singer." But here they're trying too hard to play grown-up. The attempt has moments, but only because we're so surprised at how deep they think they're going and how well they've studied the films they're trying to ape.

Sandler's been testing the waters of legitimacy since 2002, when he scored points in the endearing oddity "Punch-Drunk Love." But in 2004's more mainstream "Spanglish," he was getting ahead of what the audience was willing to accept from him. "Click" gives us both Sandlers: the one we expect and the one he eventually wants to be. He plays Michael, a workaholic architect, burning the vocational candle at both ends to support wife Donna (Kate Beckinsale) and kids Ben (Joseph Castanon) and Samantha (Tatum McCann). He's stretched thin, Michael is, and the more pressure he gets from work, the less time he can devote to sexually-neglected Donna and the kids who want their treehouse finished.

After a particularly frustrating night, Michael drives to Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy a universal remote for his ceiling fan, garage door and television. Stumbling into a back room, he meets Morty (one-of-a-kind Christopher Walken), a frazzly-haired combination of Willy Wonka and Christopher Lloyd from "Back to the Future." Morty proffers a very special universal remote, which Michael readily accepts because it's free. But when he takes the unit home, he discovers it has magical powers, like the ability to fast forward through domestic squabbles and add picture-in-picture to the lovelorn cacklings of his wife's friend Janine (Jennifer Coolidge). Michael happily utilizes the technology to avoid life's unpleasantries, but this primary stretch is index card filmmaking. Writers Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe have certainly catalogued everything a remote can do, and assigned them real-world applications, but it's mechanical and only sporadically amusing. However, the remote does offer one intriguing and sinister piece of corporate-inspired business: to jump through time, Michael steps inside a DVD-style menu system, making "Click" a film that doubles as a commercial for its own ancillary product.

Eventually, the remote starts anticipating when Michael will use it, automatically hurtling him beyond life's difficult and mundane moments. But most of our lives are difficult and mundane, so Michael is forced to travel years into the future, until he misses the lifetime of good that makes the bad worth enduring. Freshening up the "neglectful dad learns to appreciate his family" genre is tough for Michael, especially when accompanied by a heavy string section and captained by comics who think this is what it's like to get serious. It's chancy to steer any movie so far a field from where it started and from how it's being marketed. It's a no-win scenario anyway: Sandler's younger fans can't be bothered with the movie's darker implications, and older fans won't appreciate Happy Gilmore giving them maudlin life lessons.

For Sandler, the transition from MTV cool to VH1 nostalgic seems natural, but the emotion and the longing that accompany nostalgia are still lost on an actor with limited range, trying mightily to improve himself. Sandler still has a charming tendency to date himself with his pop culture references. The songs are well-chosen '80s confections and the supporting cast includes "Happy Days'" Henry Winkler (a Sandler regular) and "Baywatch's" David Hasselhoff, vintage TV icons rescued from cheesiness and dusted off to good effect.

But Sandler can't use the same movie to fart in David Hasselhoff's face, then make us cry tears of emotion. In the future, he'll have to choose one or the other. Starring Adam Sandler, Kate Beckinsale and Christopher Walken. Directed by Frank Coraci. Written by Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe. Produced by Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo, Neal H. Moritz, Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe. A Columbia release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, crude and sex related humor and some drug references. Running time: 108 min

Tags: Adam Sandler, remote control, magic, fantasy, time travel, family, children, aging, weight, health, death, regret, wishes, Kate Beckinsale, Sean Astin, David Hasselhoff, Christopher Walken, Henry Winkler, Jennifer Coolidge, Frank Coraci, Jack Giarraputo, Neal H. Moritz

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