Thursday, April 21, 2016
One of the most overrated talents of my generation has been Woody Allen. Whatever skills Allen possesses, I have for nearly all my life been immune to them. He rarely makes me snicker, almost never makes me laugh, and by and large his movies (produced with a humdrum regularity) wear forgettable titles and barely dent my consciousness. I've never seen all of Annie Hall, and none of the rest have gotten more than a few minutes from me. Save for Sleeper.
Sleeper is a nominal science fiction movie and a comedy. The former is assured by its setting and premise, a United States of 2173 into which our protagonist has been forwarded by dint of cryogenics. Miles Monroe, as played by Allen is a Health Store owner who went to the hospital for a routine procedure and due to complications was frozen and forgotten about, like an unsavory TV dinner. He's thawed out by rebels in the future society who want to take advantage of his outsider status to strike at the oppressive government which rules over all of the society we are able to glimpse. Quickly things get out of hand and Miles is off on his own to tumble through various parts of this weird new order. Luna Schlosser is a happy enough citizen until she meets Miles and gets thrown into cahoots with the rebels led by Erno Windt. The movie thrashes about until Miles and Luna carry out their mission and find some semblance of love in a world which seems to have forgotten what that is really.
Upon review of my summary, I find I've given the story more heart than does Allen's direction. Miles is a hapless hero, who is routinely snide and sarcastic and so limits our ability to extend any sympathy. He's never in sufficient danger to really qualify for the word and so this spoof bounces along, not unlike the air-filled rubber suit Allen wears at one point, until the inevitable end, and end which suggests any attempt to change is moot as (I assume) people are fundamentally flawed. Sigh.
Some of the special effects, especially the cars and some of the architecture do indeed communicate a future world, but the people are too broadly drawn to be anything other than targets of limited satire. Allen gets kudos from many critics I notice for the physical comedy in this flick, and if he's getting credit for anything other than trying to return it to the big screen, it's undeserving. Allen's ability to do physical shtick seems particularly limited, and aside from the cute little shuffle he does pretending to be a robot, almost never works. Some compare him to Buster Keaton, but that's absurd on its face. Several scenes showcase the difference and it's easy to see where Keaton could illicit a laugh, Allen can only muster a knowing grunt at best.
Sleeper does have pace, that I'll say and that more than anything kept me tuned in. Diane Keaton is lovely as usual, but doesn't really do anything in the way of acting that struck me as particularly subtle. This movie seems a pretty standard Allen outing to me, with enough sci-fi shtick to keep me tuned in, but barely. I don't necessarily dislike Sleeper, but I don't loathe it like I do so much of what Allen has done. It's positive reception by the science fiction community when it was released is most likely due to the dearth of material available in those pre-Star Wars times.