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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.27%
Worth A Look: 25%
Average: 15.91%
Pretty Bad52.27%
Total Crap: 4.55%

5 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Reign Over Me
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by Erik Childress

"The Fisher Court Jester"
2 stars

Just as there seems to be a documentary being made for every wrongly-suspected terrorist detained after 9/11, there could just as easily be one made for every American who felt the weight of that horrible day. For all the “too soon” posturing that came with the release of United 93 and World Trade Center last year, there are thousands of families who have been reliving it day after day without the benefit of any dramatization. I can’t imagine what the doth-protest-too-much crowd will have to say about using Adam Sandler, an actor whose success has come primarily from the wallets of teenage boys and those with a predilection for sophomoric humor, to portray one such grieving father. While Sandler’s dramatic range may be questionable even to ardent supporters of Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish, he is just a tiny factor in a film about getting back on the horse that, ironically, doesn’t know when to get off it.

Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) has a successful dental practice in New York where he lives with his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and daughters. One day he recognizes a familiar face walking the streets, that of Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), an old college roommate of his at dental school. Alan hasn’t seen him since but is aware of the tragedy that affected his life some years ago when his wife and three daughters were “on one of the planes.” When he finally makes contact, Charlie acts as if they’ve never met. But a third encounter leads to recognition and a quick getaway from the in-laws (Melinda Dillon & Robert Klein) who have been trying to reach out to him for years.

Since the recent move to NY has rendered Alan basically friendless, he rekindles a relationship with Charlie, staying out late and partaking in the youthful distractions of video games and instrument jamming. Alan makes the mistake of trying to talk to Charlie about his tragedy, a casual digression that Charlie sees as a betrayal. But Charlie keeps coming back and the more time they spend together, the more Alan feels its his duty to get his friend some help. Apparently believing in the creedo that practice makes perfect, Alan continues to make sneak attacks on Charlie’s psyche even though he reacts increasingly in erratic and even violent behavior towards him. It takes three such outbursts to finally get him to settle down long enough to sit down with the shrink Alan continually solicits for unpaid advice played by Liv Tyler.

Reign Over Me, like its troubled protagonists, is full of unresolved issues that writer/director Mike Binder can’t help creating for himself. How long ago Binder may have wrote this story is up for question, but he may have benefited by setting the film a little closer to the actual tragedy that clouds Charlie’s motivations. Far be it for anyone to question how long it would take for anyone suffering his loss to get over it, but we learn so little about Charlie through the long course of the film’s two hours that it’s impossible to reconcile all the trauma and quirks inherent in Sandler’s treatment of the character. As if taking a cue from Paul Thomas Anderson’s deconstruction of the Sandler persona, Binder creates Charlie as a walking on/off switch of childlike indifference and the grieving widower who doesn’t want to talk about it. Binder solves the money issue thanks to a large government settlement that came Charlie’s way (a fact we’d like to know a little more about when he’s able and willing to fork over a cool million to Alan as an apology), but he goes so far out of his way never to specifically use the term “9/11” or anything else associated with it that he becomes as closed off as Charlie in ever being able to provide any commentary whatsoever to his loss.

As a father losing his family, that should be enough to provide a stable drama without the leakage of politics drowning it in liberal paranoia. But there are enough distractions, many of which that could have become the focal point of the film at any time, to lose our sympathy vote along the way. They begin almost immediately with a patient of Alan’s (Saffron Burrows) who announces her flirtation with the subtlety of an open mouth and is so embarrassed at his rejection that she files a harassment suit against him. This is just a gateway plot device to revealing Alan’s marital issues and the ways in which he feels hamstrung by the partners who wouldn’t exist without him. But the Burrows character keeps reappearing and its her own revelation of a troubled marriage that suggest a potential parallel to Charlie who, upon one look at her, equates her to a moviestar of the golden age. Instead of finding the route to get those two together as soon as possible (and thus, making all references to The Fisher King complete), she comes off as just a nutso for us to scorn while we’re supposed to feel nothing but sympathy for Charlie.

Chalk her up as one of the long line of sexual deviants in Binder projects ranging from his HBO series The Mind of the Married Man, the lesbionic threesome partners of The Sex Monster and the young women of The Upside of Anger willing to sleep with guys like Mike Binder. Cheadle does his best to micromanage all the various plot threads (including the more interesting portrait of “trapped” marriage than recently experienced in Chris Rock’s I Think I Love My Wife), but if this is really a story about dealing with grief then why does a death in Alan’s family feel hamstrung in rather than a true declaration of how an unexpected tragedy can change a person? If Binder had known when to let go himself, he would have recognized that Sandler’s breakdown scene (which deserved a true one-shot instead of constant cutbacks to Cheadle’s reaction) is the film’s ending. Not the additional half-hour of therapy, institutions and a courtroom scene so forced it makes the one in Big Daddy feel authentic by comparison.

As one of the aforementioned who has praised Sandler’s dramatic work in the past, it pained me to watch him here. Much of his performance contains the familiar octave affectations that we’ve seen in his comedies and Binder does him no favors in breaking free of that familiarity. The soundtrack is flooded with artists that made Sandler an SNL favorite with impersonations of Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder and his reliance on the giant headphones playing those tunes make his cathartic flare-ups a doppelganger for Warren in There’s Something About Mary. Reign Over Me needed to find a storyline and stick to it. Utilizing Burrows as a love interest much earlier on could have created an oddball romance worthy of Sandler’s quirks. Abandoning her completely and focusing on Charlie opening up without the questionable (and obviously fruitless) attempts by Alan scene-after-scene may have succeeded as a passable drama with potential for real emotion. Binder could have used the constant reappearance of 9/11 through the war, films and terror alerts to fuel Charlie’s digression from the world. How can one survive when a constant reminder of that tragedy is front-and-center 24/7? Maybe Reign Over Me can serve as a reminder that the only way to deal with 9/11 is to actually deal with it instead of shifting the focus to elements that obviously have nothing to do with it.

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originally posted: 03/23/07 15:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/17/17 Anne Selby could have been great 2 stars
12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Fell asleep to this one. 2 stars
11/12/08 damalc moving. cheadle always great. nice change for sandler. 4 stars
11/01/08 ldavies I liked the casting and the script. 4 stars
8/11/08 Jon G A learning experience 4 stars
11/28/07 mike a plotless movie that seemed annoying and dumb 1 stars
11/22/07 fools♫gold Not as good as Punch-Drunk Love, butbetterthan theseassesthink. Alloffense. Well, maybenot. 3 stars
7/24/07 Jonas Kinda slow and without any real plot 2 stars
6/30/07 Sb Just sucks. Using 9/11 theme to attract audience. Low. 2 stars
6/15/07 William Goss Good performances keep grief-driven dramedy compelling. No need for Burrows. 4 stars
4/08/07 James Very disappointing... overly sentimental, cliche, overdone with the music. 2 stars
3/26/07 Joe The movie is right and deep...about how to handle grief 5 stars
3/23/07 Glenn W Not a lot beyond what the trailer shows, but Cheadle and Sandler do a good job. 4 stars
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  23-Mar-2007 (R)
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