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Reign Over Me

Billy Madison cries? Who knew?! In Reign Over Me, Adam Sandler's casting isn't the only thing that's odd, but it's hard not to be moved in some way.


While not a "9/11 movie," nor attempting to be, Reign Over Me sheds light on a different kind of post-September 11 rubble than what we're used to seeing dramatized: The emotional rubble. On that fateful day, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) lost his wife and daughters--and he pretty much died also. Ever since, he has shut himself out from New York City and the city from him, unable to move on with his life or recall anything from 9/11 or before it. His old college roommate, Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), leads a completely different life professionally and domestically, but he struggles with the ennui of success at dentistry and marriage—thanks to a sex-crazed patient (Saffron Burrows) and an overbearing but well-meaning wife (Jada Pinkett Smith), respectively. After bumping into Charlie, who claims not to remember him, Alan strikes up a relationship with his old buddy and tries to help Charlie start anew and come to terms with the past. And while Alan pities Charlie, he simultaneously envies his unparalleled freedom.


Even though Reign will make a good chunk of its money on speculation tickets bought by Sandler fans, it is obviously something different from what we've come to expect from the God of Goof. His performance is not without Sandler-isms, but the overall immaturity is impressively kept in check, and Sandler delivers most when his character's emotions peak. Still, it's impossible not to wonder how much more a different actor could've soared in the role, even if partly because Sandler's quick-to-giggle audience precedes him. Conversely, there is virtually no role unbefitting Cheadle, which he further proves in Reign. It's not gaudy like Hotel Rwanda, and he's not necessarily the lead here, but Cheadle, as always, lends so much effortless authenticity. The formidable supporting actors all serve their purposes, even if a few of their characters are somewhat dubious. In addition to Pinkett Smith and Burrows, whose supermodel-like beauty is frankly a bit distracting from her character's complexity, Liv Tyler (as the shrink enlisted to help Charlie), Donald Sutherland (as a judge), writer-director Mike Binder (as Charlie's accountant) and The Office's B.J. Novak (as a lawyer) also co-star.


In concept, Reign Over Me is awfully intriguing, a different take on the still-unfolding aftermath of September 11. But 9/11, no matter how scant the references, remains a very slippery slope. Ultimately, the only way to come to grips with writer-director Binder's 9/11 tie-in is to concede that it makes the story more contemporary and less fictional. It's just difficult to conclude whether it is more or less admirable to use that day as a mere backstory for a movie. But Binder's story is certainly well intentioned and ambitious—maybe too ambitious, as is often a director's weakness. Binder (Upside of Anger) tries to cramp into his dramedy far too many elements, and while never exactly a failure, the result can be weird. Too many metaphors—including the title, taken from the Who song that Charlie often listens to on his headphones—and character flaws—the screenplay kind, not the real-life kind—send the movie up and down tonally. Binder does, however, paint a vastly warm, luminous NYC—a character all its own, rightfully so.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.