"I was cleaning and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn't remember whether or not I had dusted it. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember -- so that if I had dusted it and forgot -- that is, had acted unconsciously, then it was the same as if I had not. If some conscious person had been watching, then the fact could be established. If, however, no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been."

 -- Leo Tolstoy, Diary, March 1, 1897.

Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) is, as are we all, trying to make it work. He's a busy architect, a husband, a father. Early in Click, as Michael's kids Ben (Joseph Castanon) and Samantha (Tatum McCann) note that the treehouse in the backyard has been " ... kinda half done for two months now," you pretty much instantly know Michael's life: Cat, cradle, silver spoon. One night, frustrated by the ever-increasing number of remote control units it takes to run his life (he tries to turn on the TV and starts the ceiling fan), Michael runs out to buy a universal remote control. What he gets is a new kind of remote from a squirrelly, sweater-vest wearing Bed, Bath and Beyond employee named Morty (Christopher Walken), who labors in a cluttered lab behind a door marked "Beyond."

What Morty gives Michael is a remote control that works on the fabric of reality. Dog barking loudly? Turn down his volume. Argument with the wife (Kate Beckinsale)? Fast-forward through it. Want to know what the high-profile Japanese clients are saying about the building proposal you've just made? Change the language track so you can hear their previously-incomprehensible conversation dubbed in English. Of course, eventually, the remote starts to 'learn' what you like to fast-forward through, and does it for you. ...

The idea of stopping time and controlling the universe is nothing new; Crime novelist John D. MacDonald explored it with the breezy caper The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything in the '80s, while Nicholson Baker used a similar device in his novel The Fermata; Michael Haneke's Funny Games has a sequence with a remote control that's grim, terrifying stuff. The idea behind Click is neither new nor problematic; it's in the execution where things go amiss. Click wants, essentially, to have it both ways; you're given knee-to-the-crotch and extended gas jokes, and then you're asked to sympathize with Michael as his life speeds ahead without his conscious input. You could make a film with this pitch taking the 'pull my finger' approach of bawdy, goofy, high-speed wackiness; you could make a version taking the 'pull on the heartstrings' approach of drama and sadness. By weaving between both, Click winds up a muddled, oil-and-water mix of poop jokes and pathos, neither of which stick. The movie could have used a bit more Rod Serling (Walken's Morty is right out of The Monkey's Paw) and less ... Rob Schneider (of which more later).

The broadness of the approach doesn't help, either. Rick Baker's makeup effects are used to distracting, distancing effect throughout the film. (Is the sight of Sandler in a fat suit -- undoubtedly an expensive and well-made one, but still -- intrinsically funny? I would suggest it is not.) While there are some familiar and welcome faces in the supporting cast -- Walken, Beckinsale, David Hasselhoff, Henry Winkler, Julie Kavner, Nick Swardson -- they're not given much chance to shine. Beckinsale is treated as eye candy, and while Walken's corkscrew delivery can parse laughs out of lines like " It's the latest ... greatest ... Universal Remote ... not even ... on the market yet," it's thin stuff.

The biggest irony in Click is that a film about how you have to pay attention to life and not just run on autopilot commits the sin it most strongly counsels against. Click re-unites Sandler with director Frank Coraci, who previously directed The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer; if ever a director was going to be inclined to let a star coast, it's Coraci. Sandler also has several members of his familiar co-stars along for Click, including a vaguely racist turn by Rob Schneider (continuing his regrettable string of bad ethnic performances in Sandler films) as an Arabian prince. Click wants to be It's a Wonderful Life -- right down to the final race through Bedford Falls and the 'wake up the family' scene -- but I can't recall Jimmy Stewart kneeing people in the crotch quite so often. Much of a comedy like this -- rife with supernatural elements, laden with pretensions of nobility (the writing team of Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe previously gave us the similarly special-effects heavy, sappy Bruce Almighty) -- depends on how well the elements connect with each other and with us; put bluntly (and to refute Harry Knowles's insipid mealy-mouthed praise), Click doesn't.