"Depressing and Annoying Story of an Adulterous, Compulsive, Foul-Mouthed Jewish Jeweler"
What You Need To Know:
Set in 2012, UNCUT GEMS picks up in the third act after a slow, annoying and pretentious first half. However, a final twist is stupid and depressing. Also, the dialogue contains a constant barrage of several hundred “f” words and many profanities. This makes UNCUT GEMS even more annoying and shows a lack of creativity.
UNCUT GEMS stars Adam Sandler as an adulterous, foul-mouthed Jewish jewelry expert in New York City who owes a big debt to his loan shark uncle but is trying to pay off that and other debts while waiting to sell a large uncut opal from Ethiopia at an upcoming auction. The story and plot of UNCUT GEMS picks up in the third act after a slow, annoying and sometimes pretentious first half, but a final twist at the end is stupid and depressing, and the movie contains a constant barrage of “f” words and a silly metaphor about the “universe” that might seem Jewish to some but is a little bit New Agey, humanist and pagan.
The movie opens in 2010 with a miner in Ethiopia being carried out of a mine because he’s hurt his leg while mining for gems. A bunch of angry Africans surround the Chinese managers of the mine. Meanwhile, a couple of the miners rush into the mine where the accident happened. One of them chips away at the place where the miner supposedly was working and uncovers a large shiny opal encrusted with rock. The camera pans into the dazzling colors of the gem to take a subatomic look at the gem.
The camera then dissolves into a colonoscopy camera as, two years later, doctors examine the colon of Howard Ratner, a Jewish gem merchant with his own jewelry shop in New York City. The doctors declare that Howard’s colon is all clean except for a small flat polyp.
After leaving the doctor’s office, Howard walks to his jewelry shop, which is really only a small room full of jewelry and goofy bejeweled knickknacks secured by a glass-enclosed metal detector, to make sure no one’s carrying a weapon. While walking to his shop, Howard’s on his smartphone trying to reach someone named Arno, but Arno doesn’t pick up. A few moments later, in the jewelry shop, the movie reveals that Howard owes a lot of money to Arno, who seems to be a loan shark. Arno has sent two goons to the shop to remind Howard about his debt. At one point, one of the goons even slaps Howard to stop him from talking so much (Howard is kind of a motor mouth).
At the same time, Howard learns that an important package has arrived for him. It turns out to be the same large, rock-encrusted opal from the very first scene. The gem is a precious black opal, a gemstone filled with dazzling colors on top of a black base (hence the term black opal). Howard plans to show the gem at an auction on Monday after the upcoming weekend, where he hopes to be able to earn about a million dollars or more from the sale and pay off his debt to his uncle and any other debts he still owes.
Meanwhile, Howard’s jewelry shop gets a visit from the real-life Boston Celtics basketball star Kevin Garnett. A black hustler gets all the basketball stars in town to come to Howard’s shop. A basketball fanatic, Howard also has a bad habit of betting on NBA basketball games, so having the stars come to his shop improves Howard’s chances of knowing who’s hot and who’s not in the world of professional basketball.
Howard’s pride in getting the black opal inspires him to show off the rock-encrusted gem to Kevin. Howard tells Kevin a mystical superstition about black opals that you can see the universe inside the gem. He gives Kevin his best jeweler’s loupe to look closely at the uncut gem’s detailed colors. He also tells Kevin he bought the gem from the Ethiopian miners who found it.
Kevin immediately falls in love with the opal. He tells Howard he feels that he and the gem are spiritually tied to one another. He asks Howard if he can “borrow” the gem for that night’s playoff game against the New York Knicks. Howard reluctantly agrees, but he takes Kevin’s NBA championship ring as collateral and asks him to make sure he returns the gem at 9 the next morning.
However, with the ring in hand, Howard thinks Kevin’s emotional connection with the gem will ensure a Celtics win. So, he pawns the gem and bets all the money on Kevin and the Celtics. In fact, he even bets that Kevin will take the first jump ball for the Celtics. Sure enough, Kevin and the Celtics play a superb game, and Howard wins all his bets. Instead of going to retrieve his winnings or spending time with his children while his wife’s away overnight visiting relatives, Howard leaves his home to visit his mistress and have a sexual rendezvous in the apartment where he pays for her to live. His mistress also works for Howard at the jewelry shop.
Of course, Kevin doesn’t show up the next morning with the gem. Also, Howard learns that Arno, who also happens to be Howard’s uncle, cancelled all of Howard’s big basketball bet after he learned that, instead of paying off some of his debt to Arno, Howard bet lots of money on a basketball game. Arno seems only slightly chagrined when Howard tells him that, if the bet had gone through, he would have won $600,000 and could have paid off all his debt to Arno.
For the next day or two, Howard goes on an urgent quest to get hold of Kevin and get the gem back by Friday, when it has to be submitted to the auction house for auction. Several plot twists follow as Howard’s life becomes one long roller coaster ride.
UNCUT GEMS takes a while to get to the meat of its story. It doesn’t really reveal details of Howard’s family relationship to his loan shark uncle until well into the second act. Also, the characters, including the character of Howard, are off-putting. Howard keeps making stupid decisions that don’t make much sense at the time, until another plot twist comes along. In addition, some of the music sounds pretentious. Also, there’s a constant barrage of “f” words, and a significant number of strong and light profanities. In fact, UNCUT GEMS has the highest foul language count of any other major movie this year by far, and maybe even close to a record. Finally, although the third act picks up a lot and adds some much-needed suspense and excitement, a plot twist at the end comes totally out of the blue and is stupid and depressing, as if the filmmakers suddenly decided that the audience doesn’t deserve to have any kind of happy, satisfying, uplifting ending. Thus, the ending makes the movie even more annoying.
UNCUT GEMS is like a little morality play and character study of a man who always has to be living on the edge to feel alive. Howard’s always looking for the next big score, either in his jewelry business or in his gambling exploits. Cheating on his wife seems to be part of Howard’s compulsive need to live dangerously. At one point in the movie, Howard catches his mistress in the bathroom with a rap star, who is shown trying to convince her to go to bed with him. The young woman lets the man flirt with her, but she keeps rebuffing him. Though she assures Howard nothing happened, he’s so upset that he breaks up with her and orders her to vacate the apartment where he pays for her to live. She pleads with him not to break up with her, but he’s adamant and even tells her that he’s decided to stick with his wife and family and devote more time to them. Despite Howard’s change of heart, the movie shows Howard deciding to go back to his mistress when she helps him place a big winning bet that seems to solve all of his problems. Thus, in the end, Howard always follows his sinful nature, and he ends up paying for it.
There’s a mystical line in UNCUT GEMS about being able to see the whole universe in a beautiful diamond or black opal. The movie’s opening shot of the inside of the opal and the inside of Howard’s alimentary canal picks up that metaphor, as does an image at the end that focuses on a drop of Howard’s blood. This metaphor seems a little New Agey, in a slightly humanist way that seems to echo Buddhist humanism. The only other religious content in the movie is a scene of the Jewish Passover Seder at Howard’s father’s house that’s attended by Uncle Arno. The scene is short, and right afterwards, the men and boys adjourn to the TV room with a basketball game on the boob tube. At one point, the movie makes a joke about Jews in New York seemingly being addicted to watching and following NBA basketball games.
Ultimately, while UNCUT GEMS perhaps can be seen as a morality play, it’s not strong enough, biblical enough, morally enough, Christian enough, or even Jewish enough to be worthwhile. The amount of foul language, which is well over 600 instances, is certainly totally gratuitous and abhorrent. Any Jew or Christian who’s not seriously offended and annoyed by this hedonistic pagan self-indulgence should re-examine their commitment to their faith. Also, such an excessive amount of foul language reveals sloppy, lazy writing and a lack of creativity. It sorely tarnishes the acting of Adam Sandler. The filmmakers could have at least added a scene where Howard’s father slapped him for having such a filthy mouth.