It is the year 2173 and scientists have discovered a capsule containing the body of a man cryogenically frozen two hundred years ago. They must revive him in secret, because the United States of America has been suffering under a totalitarian government since the last great war. The man turns out to be Miles Monroe (Woody Allen), a health food shop owner and jazz musician who went in for surgery on an ulcer and, due to an accident, was preserved. Now as he wakes up, he is dazed and confused and is proving difficult to grow aware of his surroundings, which is vital as the military police arrive to find out what has been going on...
One of what will forever be known as "the early, funny ones", Sleeper was star, co-writer (with Marshall Brickman) and director Woody Allen's apparent tribute to the silent film comedies of Buster Keaton. This means quite a measure of slapstick to go along with the verbal humour that Allen is best known for, and a fairly long sequence where he says nothing at all onscreen. Nevertheless, Allen still seems to be sustaining his Bob Hope style wisecracking coward act that had seen him so well through his films of the sixties and early seventies, with a notable dose of sexual frustration to go along with it.
The laughs are pretty evenly shared between the verbal and the physical, evidence of which can be seen when Miles wanders around the lab in a stupefied manner, disappearing for a few seconds only to re-emerge slumped in a motorised wheelchair, bumping into the doctors and the policemen. When Miles is truly aware at last, Allen fires off the one liners: when told the authorities want him dead and will destroy his brain, he complains that's his second favourite organ. The Allen persona has been honed to a fine point, and setting it loose on a fully realised world that sums up the worst of the modern era makes him the smartest character.
Science fiction is always about the time it's written in, and Allen and Brickman have fun sending up the seventies, with its preoccupations of sex, food and corrupt government. The safe house where Miles is being kept is eventually invaded by the lawmen, and he has to make good his escape, leading him to pose as a robot butler and be delivered to the home of Luna (Diane Keaton at her daffiest), where he grows accustomed to the 22nd century way of life, complete with instant pudding (that turns dangerous), drugs replaced with an orb that has the same effect, and of course the Orgasmatron, the film's most famous innovation, which has replaced sex.
Naturally, there is a scene where Miles goes into the Orgasmatron by himself, with frazzling results. But before we get there, he has to kidnap Luna and persuade her that he is not a dangerous alien, and that they must reach the Underground to spark the revolution. However, she is reluctant to go along with this, and it's only when she is threatened with brainwashing by the police that she sees Miles' view. There are many incidental gags that raise laughs, such as Rags ("Woof woof woof woof! Hello, I'm Rags!") the useless robot dog, and Allen's silent comedy is excellent (like the way he excuses himself from having his head removed), but many of the conversations go on a bit too long. However, there are terrific, resigned final lines and Sleeper does entertain. The jolly, oddly appropriate music is by Allen too.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hit Midnight in Paris. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.