Leo (2023)

‘Leo’ breaks loose, but doesn’t go far enough

I’m not sure for whom the computer-animated “Leo” was made, your family or Adam Sandler’s. Either way, it’s nepotism out of control, with four Sandlers listed among the voice talent supporting a wildly uneven tale about a 74-year-old lizard pursuing his dying wish to flee his classroom home for a comfy retirement in the Everglades. Dumb doesn’t begin to describe the convoluted plot cooked up by Sandler and two chums. But I can’t deny laughing and getting a bit teary-eyed over what transpires during a prolonged 105 minutes.

It’s also a huge plus that Sandler’s chief co-star is Canton native Bill Burr as Leo’s decades-long terrarium mate, Squirtle the turtle. The two lend a lived-in quality to a creaky Vaudeville act in which insults are a substitute for endearments. Their spirited banter delivers a much-needed lift in the early going, as the two reputable reptiles reminisce while psychoanalyzing a fresh crop of 5th graders at the start of a new school year.

Then, the laborious plot kicks in, subtracting Burr from the equation and leaving Sandler free to indulge his too-familiar schtick, as the students take turns bringing Leo home for the weekends. It’s during this shared custody arrangement that the kiddos discover their class pet’s remarkable ability to speak to them in bromides intended to build their fragile self-esteem. The twist is that each kid thinks they are the only one able to converse with Leo.

These weekend shrink sessions grow whiskers fast in what amounts to a clunky device to introduce us to each student and the unique neurosis only Leo can cure. It drags on for what seems like forever until the story regains momentum in a chaotic third act in which Leo unexpectedly gets what he regrets wishing for, leaving his patients, er, human friends, adrift without their sensei.

In the meantime, Burr’s Squirtle disappears for long stretches until it comes time to save the day, which would have proved exciting if the story weren’t so predictable. That’s the danger with three guys in the writing room, including Sandler. And it becomes even more perilous when said script is handed over to a trio of directors. Three is definitely a crowd, evidenced by the film’s inconsistent tone and disjointed structure.

Little ones likely won’t notice the hodgepodge, but the adults will. In spite of the myriad flaws, I found myself sucked into the increasingly preposterous tale in which the requisite villain emerges as that most notorious of classroom fiends, the substitute teacher. This one is voiced by “SNL” vet Cecily Strong in a menacing but oddly sympathetic tone. Her Mrs. Malkin is not all bad. And neither is the movie if you can overlook a few dead spots and a profusion of Sandler’s trademark scatological humor. Just stick with it. You might find that it’s a class you can’t dismiss.

Movie review


Rating: G for Rude/suggestive material, some language

Cast: Voices of Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong and Jason Alexander

Directors: Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and David Wachtenheim

Writers: Robert Smigel, Adam Sandler and Paul Sado

Runtime: 105 minutes

Where to see: On Netflix

Grade: B-

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