It’s no secret that Adam Sandler’s career is on the downtrend over the last several years. Many of his movies have lost money and paid him handsomely in the process landing him on Forbes most overpaid actor’s list for multiple years. Uncut Gems was supposed to reverse this trajectory by giving Sandler a chance to showcase his acting ability in a more serious role. The film spent a large amount on advertising Adam Sandler’s Oscar worthy performance. The Academy would later deny a nomination to him. Still, the movie was well received on Twitter and a 98% recommendation according to Netflix algorithms. However, watching Uncut Gems was a regrettable experience of letting social media and Netflix algorithms guide my viewing.
The movie begins with loud background music that persist approximately ten minutes of runtime clouding much of the dialog. Our main character, as I would not call him a protagonist, is Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler. Howard is the owner of an exclusive jewelry store in New York. The script wastes no time in establishing the fact that Howard is a gaping asshole to every single person he encounters. We also discover early on that he has a mounting pile of debt well into six figures from loan sharks, pawn shops, and family. He cheats on his wife with the prostitute or former prostitute that works with him and is an unmissed father figure.
In Howard’s character, we have the movie’s first unresolved issue: there is no protagonist. Because Howard mistreats everyone around him, there is no reason to root for him. It is almost as if the writers never asked themselves why the audience would care what happens to him. In his interactions with the numerous debt collectors that we see, he’s the bad guy. The debt collectors aren’t overly villainous. They’re just doing their jobs. Yet we watch Howard persist in gambling with other people’s money. And if we’re supposed to feel sympathetic to Howard’s plight when his creditors pull his bet on a six leg parlay in the middle of the movie that prevents Howard from earning enough to pay him back, then the script fails. And without a protagonist the script needs an antihero. Antiheros are supposed to be likable. But Adam Sandler’s character is not likable whatsoever, thus failing in every category of a main character.
I want to contrast Uncut Gems with Tiger King. In Tiger King, all of the figures are bad people. However, the story of Joe Exotic is compelling because despite the fact that Joe Exotic is a degenerate, he was fighting an injustice that he perceived. He was quirky. He laid who he was out in the open. He was dumb and found himself in over his head with bad people. And the other bad people, mainly Carole Baskins, are worse. Most of all, the characters are interesting. In Uncut Gems, the characters aren’t interesting. It doesn’t matter how well Adam Sandler performs in this movie. His character sucks. He’s a terrible human being and the only thing relatable about him is his love of sports and sports handicapping. He’s not an average Joe. Instead, he is a sycophant to celebrity culture.
The second problem with the movie is the pacing. The script is sluggish in moving the plot along. It is a painful two plus hours of devotion if you stick around for the ending. The script consists of Howard creating several of his own problems that he must undo. He steals merchandise from his employees and store to pay collectors with which may or may not be real. He loans his Ethiopian opal to Kevin Garnett and struggles to get it back. He accepts his NBA Championship ring as collateral only to pawn it for gambling money that he loses. The script kinda forgets about this ring for a while after this, so that Howard can go on a wild goose chase hunting down Garnett. Howard tries to auction the rock, ultimately losing money in the process. All this happens before the gambling addict decides to throw a hail Mary on a parlay.
The ending with Howard’s victory leaves little to look forward to and the extra twist at the end does not rectify the bad script. This plot twist is not shocking, nor did it reverse my viewing experience. It’s similar to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom where the script ultimately fails to convince the viewer to care about the outcome, only worse in this respect.
There’s very little positive to say about Uncut Gems. Perhaps the movie proves that Adam Sandler deserves a chance to play a serious character in a movie with a competent script. Otherwise, his acting performance failed to elevate a pitiful plot to something watchable like Kylo Ren’s performance in Marriage Story. All told it is the third worst Adam Sandler movie I have seen in at least partiality, (the number one and two being Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy respectively, neither were finished.) Even a plotless movie like Grown Ups 2 is a better viewing experience. Uncut Gems is not funny or intense. It plays up a romance that doesn’t make sense. The script is unwitty and relies on profanities in every sentence. It may be the worst movie I’ve seen all year. At least The Last Jedi was enjoyable to hate-watch with how bad that movie was. Uncut Gems is a complete misfire from the very start.
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