Adam Sandler Julia Fox Idina Menzel LaKeith Stanfield Kevin Garnett Eric Bogosian
This film is billed primarily as a comedy—and that fits with the reputation of Adam Sandler, who stars here as a fast-talking salesman whose schemes leave destruction in their wake. Although many have apparently found great humor in it, I didn’t laugh once, and in some scenes that brought laughter from the audience (a beaten man put naked into a car trunk), I found pathetic. To each his/her own humor, I guess.
Howard (with the apt last name of Ratner) is a jewel merchant in New York’s diamond district who doesn’t mind where his uncut gems come from. He has managed to get a rock from Ethiopia that seems to have iridescent opals inside, which he thinks will fetch a million dollars at an auction. When Kevin Garnett (renowned basketball player) visits his shop, Howard can’t resist bragging about it and showing it to Kevin, who is truly entranced, but Howard can’t sell it to him because it is scheduled for an auction. He tells Kevin when and where the auction is, but Kevin sees the stone as a lucky charm, and insists on borrowing it for his game that evening until 9:00 the next morning when he will return it. You can guess how that turns out.
This transaction is especially dicey because Howard is a wheeler-dealer and gambler who can’t help himself from attending to both of those sides of his personality. The trouble beginning to loom up against him are debts he owes to unsavory characters, who are shaking him up (and more than that). As soon as he thinks his wheeling-dealing is paying off, he gambles on his advances. For instance, he is a baseball fan, and when he sees Garnett’s reaction to the stone, he places bets on that team winning with some money he got from pawning a “security” item.
The movie’s excitement derives from Howard’s bets and his attempts to evade debt collectors. Part of the time, we’re pulled into it by watching Kevin’s basketball games; and part of the time we’re witnessing Howard’s excruciating, painful struggles with collectors advancing on him every time he makes a turn.
Inserted into the drama (for reasons I question) are pictures of Howard’s colonscopy and family Jewish rituals, which are more forgivable, given his heritage. Yes, Howard has a family, and we see gratuitous scenes of him with his wife and children; but he also has mistress Julia (Fox) ensconced in an apartment. We see scenes of that relationship as well. But whatever his relationships—family, mistress, goons—Howard is the same scam artist trying to con all of them, none of whom believes him, at least not for long.
Uncut Gems’ biggest failing is that it is not about anything really. That is, the moral of the story is…? Please fill in the blanks for me. Also working against it are the incessant yelling, haggling, f-you sequences, which never come to an end.
Adam Sandler plays his stock character well as always. The only other actor who stood out is Kevin Garnett, whose demeanor and facial expressiveness may portend a second career for him.
Uncut Gems appeals to the taste of a few, but is sorely lacking in any substantive meaning.