Uncut Gems is the explosive, razor-edged followup to Benny and Josh Safdie's 2017 masterpiece Good Time. Like that film, which starred Robert Pattinson as a man on a frantic chase to rescue his mentally disabled brother from a trip to Rikers Island, Gems plays out in a whirling, manic, jittery New York City, with a vibrating electronic score, nonstop handheld camerawork, and a riveting lead performance, this time by Adam Sandler. The film opens on Christmas Eve in select theaters.
For this reviewer, Gems doesn't have the same emotional force as Good Time. Sandler plays a pathological gambler and Manhattan jewelry dealer named Howard Ratner. He's in absolute free fall by about the 12th minute of this lengthy character portrait and the script positively refuses to give him a parachute. From the moment an illegal Ethiopian black opal (transported in the belly of a fish) arrives at his shop, Ratner makes bad decision after bad decision in both his personal and professional spheres, hoping to extricate himself from past debts but accumulating new ones in the process.
Kevin Garnett plays an earlier version of himself — the film transpires during the 2012 NBA playoffs, on which Ratner makes increasingly audacious bets — and it's Garnett who takes a shine to the opal when he sees it in Ratner's shop, chaperoned by a hustler named Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) who brings around celebs and athletes for a cut of the profits. When Ratner reluctantly allows Garnett to take the opal for good luck at that night's game, he sets in motion a chain of violent events that don't let up until the credits roll.
Ratner mostly dodges the furious impatience of his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), whose readiness for divorce makes Marriage Story look like Sleepless in Seattle. In an inadvertently hilarious scene, Ratner asks if he and Dinah might try to make another go of their relationship. Dinah describes with the utmost sincerity how she feels about him and their marriage. "I think you're the most annoying person I've ever met," she says. Ratner meanwhile fends off jealousy when he catches his mistress and employee (Julia Fox) making out in the bathroom of a club with crooner the Weekend (also playing himself).
If this all sounds like a lot, that's because it is. The film is a raging, and not entirely entertaining, hurricane which Sandler is 100-percent the eye of. And while he's often a dynamo, reveling in the adrenaline high of fending off thugs beeping at his jewelry store, lawyers screaming on the phone, high-rollers and lovers in his office, he's also an extremely difficult character to rouse much sympathy for. To their credit, the Safdie brothers create magnificent cacophonies that are at times downright orchestral. But by the tail end of this exhausting thriller, you'll likely be yearning for some peace and quiet.