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Review: Adam Sandler runs for the money in ‘Uncut Gems’

  • COURTESY A24
                                Adam Sandler in a scene from “Uncut Gems.”

    COURTESY A24

    Adam Sandler in a scene from “Uncut Gems.”

“UNCUT GEMS”

***

(R, 2:15; opens Tuesday)

“Uncut Gems,” the latest from the brothers Josh and Benny Safdie, blows in like a Category 4 hurricane. It’s a tumult of sensory extremes, of images and sounds, lurching shapes, braying voices, intensities of feeling and calculated craziness. So, naturally it stars Adam Sandler as a cheat, liar, loving dad, bad husband, jealous lover and compulsive gambler who can’t stop, won’t stop acting the fool.

Sandler plays Howard Ratner, who has a small jewelry store in the Diamond District of Manhattan. He has a few employees, one of whom is his mistress (Julia Fox), and an aggrieved wife (Idina Menzel) who’s fed up with him. He’s a careless family man, but he dotes on his sons and still clocks in for homey obligations. But Howard has his plagues: He’s a gambler and presumably an unlucky one given his heavy debts.

Howard’s dodging some toughs who work for a mystery man whom he owes big. The men are scary — one (Keith Williams Richards) punches Howard in the kisser, which is almost understandable.

The opening scene of “Uncut Gems” takes us to an unusual location: a mine in Ethiopia, where throngs of men are scrambling around a gravely wounded worker. Two Ethiopian miners sneak away from the bedlam to dig out a lumpy rock, which turns out to be a huge black opal that ends up in Howard’s possession, though not for long. The opal proves to be increasingly dangerous to everyone who comes in contact with it.

Howard believes the opal will save him — he plans to sell it at auction — but like good fortune, the precious lump keeps slipping from his grasp through rotten luck and bad choices.

Sandler makes a persuasively unsteady hub for this pinwheeling anarchy. Every so often he gets to expand the character’s emotional register, in lulls and moments of tenderness and real feeling. Then boom! He’s off again, diving into the clamor, trying to hustle the basketball star (Kevin Garnett, as himself) or manage an unruly partner (Lakeith Stanfield) in his hustle. Garnett delivers a speech to Howard about race and exploitation, which brings the story back to Ethiopia. Garnett’s sincerity may resonate with you, but with Howard? Not so much.

Howard is running too quickly to really listen. The world is what it is, dog eat dog flimflam man, get rich or die trying.

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