Sleeper (1973)

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:   Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck
Plot:  A nerdish store owner is revived out of cryostasis into a future world to fight an oppressive government.

Genre:  Comedy / Sci-Fi
Awards:  -
Runtime:  89min
Rating:  PG for some sexual references.

One of Woody Allen’s more offbeat efforts, this early film by the ultra-prolific writer-director is not quite a gem, but has moments that border on comic genius.  Still, it remains to be one of Allen’s lesser works because the overall substance of the film does not seem to be as strong as some of his later works in the late 1970s and 1980s such as Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979), and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

However, Sleeper manages to be sporadically compelling because the bizarreness of its plot guarantees it to be so.  The plot centers on a neurotic health food restaurant owner called Miles Monroe (Allen) who is revived out of cryostasis.  He finds out to his horror (and anger) that 200 years have passed and that he is wanted by a futuristic, oppressive government. 

He meets Luna (Diane Keaton in her first collaborative role with Allen), a renowned poet who tries to hand him in to the police, but the police decides to capture her as well.  A series of comical events leads both of them to try to outsmart the government and destroy its leader, or what has remained of him.

Sleeper is a strange science-fiction comedy, though the sci-fi elements are more referential, and at times parodic, than being revelatory or groundbreaking.  The art direction is not particularly outstanding, but the set decoration and the props used have an intentional “plasticky” feeling that critiques the artificiality of modern living. 

Humans are indebted to machines that help them feel good like an orb ball and an orgasm-inducing device.  There is a delightful and hilarious sequence towards the end in a surgery theater that makes fun of “HAL” in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

While Allen’s trademark neurotic dialogue is obvious, it is his physical comedy that catches my attention.  His impersonation of a robot is quite brilliant and some of the visual comedy channels the spirit of Chaplin. 

Sleeper unfortunately does not have the verbal intensity of Allen’s best films and its lightweight, feel-good nature may not be regarded highly by his more sophisticated fans.  For me, I find it to be half-decent, though I must say I also find it quite interesting to see Allen blend visual comedy with verbal wit.  The end result is satisfactory but not terrific.


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