The movie's characters, while never really fascinating, are usually well realized. Wisely, Allen does not delve into their personalities and reveal them as complex, realistic individuals, as he often does in his other films. Instead, he leaves them to exist as caricatures so that, by poking fun at their limitations, eccentricities, or perspectives, he can make use of them as sources of comedy.
While the film's humor often relies on such depictions of its characters' quirks, it just as often depends on a number of slapstick routines. In fact, the movie is absolutely filled with such sequences. Most of these, for better or worse, make reference to routines and conventions that can be found in silent comedies. Some are clever, but others, sadly, are not. When the director approaches his sources for these sequences irreverently and parodies them, so that their foolishness is made apparent, the routines he crafts can be genuinely enjoyable. When he simply replicates the sorts of skits commonly found in silent films, he is, unfortunately, not so successful. Given that much of the comedy in silent film has slightly less sophistication than the average episode of the Coyote and the Roadrunner, the viewer who expects his comedy to contain some complexity is not likely to be enthralled by such derivative routines. If the moviegoer enjoys watching a man walking in a silly manner and making faces at the camera, he may enjoy some of these elements, but, to be honest, I did not find them to be funny.
Happily, a number of the sight gags and odd details the director has included are so ludicrous or eccentric that they are able to catch the viewer's attention. Even if Sleeper is rarely an exceptional film visually, and is never particularly beautiful, its various peculiar touches, as an hilariously poorly realized robotic dog, faux futuristic architecture, utterly useless weapons, absurdly designed robotic butlers, and so on, do add to its charm.
What is more, Allen himself is generally enjoyable to watch and does infuse Sleeper with much of his nervous energy. His numerous witty remarks, clever turns of phrase, and trenchant observations are not only often funny, but they also reveal his character as a pleasant, decent, but wonderfully sarcastic and cynical individual. Admittedly, there are other points when Allen tries so hard to be hammy that the viewer may feel a little embarrassed for him, but, more often, he is droll, likeable, and occasionally inspired. In fact, while the other members of the cast do add to the movie's enjoyableness, it is the director himself who is most likely to impress the viewer.
Even though Sleeper is by no means a masterpiece, it is clever and funny enough so that it is worth watching.
Review by Keith Allen
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