Reign Over Me

starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith and Liv Tyler
written and directed by Mike Binder
rated R for language and some sexual references.
Where will you and your roommate be in a few decades, once you’ve gone your separate ways? Questions like that may be running through your mind during Reign Over Me, a movie that stars Adam Sandler without turning into the recycled puddle of infantile dreck that is “an Adam Sandler movie.”

Sandler takes a turn for the dramatic here as Charlie Fineman, a New York City dentist who descends into depression and madness when the tragic events of 9/11 claim the lives of his wife and three daughters. Quite a few big-name comic actors have managed a solid presence in dramatic roles. Jim Carrey did excellent work in The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Robin Williams has a long list of such performances, including his roles in What Dreams May Come and Good Will Hunting. Even Will Ferrell, darling of the ultra-lowbrow crowd, impressed us last year with the more serious Stranger Than Fiction.

So, how does Adam Sandler fare in his latest foray into dramatic territory? In short, he seems both comfortable and capable with this character, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to be paired with a talent like Cheadle. Don Cheadle co-stars as Alan Johnson, Charlie’s old roommate from dental school. Alan has a successful practice and a loving family, but he is chafing a bit from the demands of responsibility. In a well-worn (but effective) set-up, a chance meeting between them will lead to big life-changes for both.

The two spend long nights jamming in Charlie’s music room, bingeing on “Shadow of the Colossus” (Charlie’s PS2 is permanently hooked up to a projector) and laughing uproariously through Mel Brooks movie marathons. Charlie latches onto Alan because he has no associations with the family life that Charlie lost. Alan leaps at the chance to help Charlie as a convenient, guilt-free escape from caring for his squabbling parents, suffering through hobbies only his wife is interested in and ferrying his daughters around the city.

Both of them are invigorated by the chance to relive their carefree college days, but this can’t last forever. Charlie is not well. He endlessly remodels his kitchen and lashes out at anyone who accidentally triggers painful memories. Meanwhile, Alan is allowing Charlie’s problems to drive a wedge between him and his family.

Reign Over Me transitions quickly (and usually well) from emotional intensity to sudden hilarity to moments of quiet profundity as its story plays out. The shifts relieve tension without cheapening the impact. Subplots abound, but the film stays focused and keeps moving. There is a bit of a third-act slump late in the movie; a failure of pacing perhaps. Just as things seem to be coming together and winding down, the story starts to drag its feet and drops in a new snarl that takes its time playing out.

The weakest link in Reign Over Me, however, is not the charaters but the characterization. Writer/director Mike Binder doesn’t seem to know what to do with the women in the story. It’s not that their presence is marginal to the main plot; after all, this isn’t their story. But every significant female character is one-dimensional at best, and an offensive stereotype at worst. This is unfortunate because it is distracting to have so many characters (however entertaining, and even meaningful, the performances) that are so difficult to envision as actual people.

This sort of thing doesn’t kill a film, it just noticeably pulls it out of reality, sticks it in a contrived movie world and requires a conscious suspension of disbelief from the audience. Happily for Reign Over Me, there is still plenty of genuine warmth and entertainment to justify a little tolerance for the shallower elements. It’s not a great movie, but it makes for a great evening at the movies.

  • Co-reviewed with Randy

~ by Jared on March 23, 2007.

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