Pros:humor with robots, score, often very funny
Cons:inconsistent, somewhat dated
I had previously thought that only Charles Chaplin was multi-talented enough to direct, write the script, play the leading role, and compose the score for one of his films. But Woody Allen does all this in Sleeper, and often does it well. While not the best film from his 'early slapstick period' (that honor belongs to Play it Again, Sam), it has more than its share of great scenes.
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The funniest scenes in Sleeper are those when Allen is impersonating a domestic robot. He has a battle with a giant pudding, gets high from a metal ball, and makes hilariously drunken passes at party guests. His scenes with Diane Keaton don't work as well, especially the gender role reversal and line readings from A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). When a film isn't as good as the subject of its ridicule, it can be more embarrassing than funny.
Allen has many scenes in which he acts like a clumsy, grinning idiot: his revival from defrosting, his exit from the sex machine, the beauty pageant. The latter is one of the weaker scenes. There's not much point to parodying the Miss America pageant when it is already bad enough to be a parody of itself.
Sleeper has considerable ethnic Jewish humor, with mixed results. The two Yiddish tailors are funny, especially when the robots create a uniform for him that is a hopelessly bad fit. A mock Jewish family dinner conversation is less effective. Such inconsistency is common to early Allen films, and with slapstick films in general. It is difficult to come up with enough great gags to fill even a ninety minute movie.
Although most of the film is highly original, some of the gags have been borrowed from slapstick comedies dating as far back as the silent era. For example, the inflatable suit used as a flotation device is from The Navigator (1924). Allen's gags with his reflection in the mirror are similar to Duck Soup (1933). Gags with the big spool of tape are reminiscent of Modern Times (1936), which had factory workers caught up in their own technological machinery.
But tape reels are obsolete today, and it's only a quarter century later. When people try to predict the future, they usually do so by exaggerating contemporary trends to ridiculous extremes. The sets and costumes share nearly the same fascination with the color white as other 'future shock' films from the early 1970s, such as THX 1138 and A Clockwork Orange.
The government's repressive imposed conformity is a familiar science fiction theme. However, this society manages to have a pleasant if shallow existence, thanks to the luxuries of domestic robots, recreational drugs, and casual safe sex. Allen may also be lampooning the attitudes of contemporary hedonistic liberals and their attendant decadent lifestyles.
Sleeper also takes the approach in which everything that we know today has been proven wrong. Allen plays a revived health food store owner, and the look on his face is priceless when he learns that tobacco and fatty foods are actually good for you. These gags are funny because they are revealing; health fads are based on cultural trends as much as transient medical knowledge. On the other hand, jokes involving Norman Mailer and Howard Cosell haven't dated well.
The uptempo Dixieland jazz score features Allen himself on clarinet. I'm not sure that Dixieland will undergo a revival in the year 2173, but the energetic score suits the movie's slapstick nature. Perhaps someday, Allen will actually stoop to include a pop song on the soundtrack of one of his films. (65/100)