By Admin | March 25, 2007

Like a number of other mega-successful comedians before him (Robin Williams and Steve Martin in particular), Adam Sandler has enjoyed a pretty profitable movie career. His straight-up (live action) comedies generally gross over $100 million, and therefore – having no more comedic worlds to conquer – he’s naturally set his sights on mastering the dramatic feature (again, like Williams and Martin). “Reign Over Me” isn’t his first stab at this (“Punch Drunk Love” has that honor), but it’s likely to get the most attention.

Then again, Sandler doesn’t even play the lead. That honor goes to Don Cheadle. Cheadle is Alex Johnson, a guy who would seem to have everything under control. A successful dentist, he’s married to a beautiful wife (Jada Pinkett Smith), has two daughters, and lives in a swanky pad in one of New York City’s nicer neighborhoods. But for all that, Alex is missing something. His life is occupied with work, taking care of his elderly parents, and generally going along with anything wife Janeane plans for him. It’s far from a miserable experience, but there’s definitely something lacking that not even a new patient (a newly emaciated Saffron Burrows) offering oral gratification can fulfill.

It is therefore fortuitous that he chances upon his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Sandler). The two haven’t talked in years, and Charlie doesn’t even recognize his old pal at first thanks to the downward spiral his life and mental stability have gone into since losing his wife and three daughters in the September 11 attacks. Now his days are spent playing video games (well, one video game: “Shadow of the Colossus,” over and over again), collecting records, and endlessly renovating the kitchen in his apartment (redoing it was the last thing he spoke with his wife about).

Attempting to reconnect with Charlie becomes an excuse for Alan to start living a little, which in this case means staying out all night and neglecting his family. And when he’s absent for a significant life event, Janeane confronts him about his new lifestyle. Say what you want about Jada Pinkett Smith, but she wields the “pissed-off wife” look in a way that will make any married men in the audience quiver in icy dread. I never pitied Will Smith until that moment.

Alan finally realizes that Charlie has some serious problems, and sets about trying to get his friend on the road to recovery. And what starts as a gentle comedy ends up going where all movies centered on psychologically damaged protagonists do. There’s a sympathetic therapist (Liv Tyler, doing little besides offering a pleasant counterpoint to Burrows’ prominent ribcage), the inevitable crack-up (taking place in an unfortunately contrived courtroom scene), and the requisite feel-good ending. It’s like “Fisher King 2: The Edge of Reason.”

“Reign Over Me” has some nice touches. Cheadle is capable as always, and Paula Newsome kills as his acerbic receptionist, but the only thing distinguishing it from comparable efforts is the September 11 backdrop, a setting which makes one scene in particular less than authentic. I won’t go into detail, but I have a bit of trouble believing anyone could point a gun at a couple of New York cops in this day and age and not instantly get an “Amadou Diallo special.”

And then there’s the product placement. I’m sure writer/director Mike Binder could make an argument for the use of Sony’s “Shadow of the Colossus” as an allegory for Charlie’s (and Alan’s) struggles but…Jesus, between the frequent (full screen, even) shots of Charlie or Alan playing and the close-ups of Charlie’s iPod (to help him keep his distance from others, y’see), I thought I was in an electronics trade show presentation, not an allegedly dramatic movie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon