No way does Adam Sandler deserve to be penalized for dumping comedy to take on a dramatic role. For my money, he worked the territory with distinction in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. But as Charlie Fineman, a Manhattan dentist who lost his wife and two children when their jet crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, Sandler is stuck in a movie that won’t come unstuck. Writer-director Mike Binder wrote the fictional script on spec for Tom Cruise, who turned it down. Veering between sentimentality and exploitation with a few misguided stops at raunchy sex farce, Reign Over Me never finds a tone to suit its purpose. here’s little doubt that Binder feels compassion for Charlie, who has topped practicing dentistry and basically stopped living, except in denial. Sandler portrays him as a regressed adolescent, an imprudent choice given the actor’s penchant for comic turns on the same character type n movies from Billy Madison to Click. With a mop of curly hair that evokes the Three Stooges and a stammering manner that suggests disability instead of trauma, Sandler closes us off from the mature husband and rather Charlie was reported to be. Charlie holes up in his apartment, laying guitar and the Shadow of the Colossus video game, emerging only o head downtown on his scooter to jam at local clubs. Cinematographer Russ T. Alsobrook, shooting digitally, gives an impossibly romantic sheen to the scenes of Charlie scooting through nighttime Manhattan on streets that are impossibly unencumbered by traffic.
The improbability pileup hits maximum alert when the reclusive Charlie literally bumps into Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), his roommate at dental school. Ah, we in the audience whisper, a catalyst for change. Alan is inspired to help his friend, no matter how much Charlie doesn’t want help. Cheadle’s role is a plot function, nothing more, saddling a fine actor with a potpourri of conflicting clichés. Get this: Alan’s own problems include a nagging wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) he keeps at a distance and a patient (gorgeous Saffron Burrows) who keeps trying to give him low jobs at the office. Binder sees all these characters s walking wounded, saving his needling wit for the parents (Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon) of Charlie’s dead wife. They want Charlie committed so they can grab the 9/11 insurance settlement.
Talk about biting off more than any reasonable movie would dare to hew. Binder’s pushy style irritated many viewers of HBO’s short-lived The Mind of the Married Man. But he did an outstanding job of dramatizing he explosion of repressed rage in 2005’s The Upside of Anger with a sparring Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. Reign Over Me (the title is derived from the Who song “Love, Reign O’er Me”) doesn’t know from boundaries. t overdoes everything, from Charlie repeating “You’re too young” to is improbable shrink (Liv Tyler) to a risible courtroom scene, with Donald Sutherland as a judge deserving of his own loony bin. Binder himself shows up as a crass lawyer with an unexpected touch of class.
Class is otherwise absent from the rest of the proceedings. Sandler gives his all to Charlie’s tear-jerking meltdown in the waiting room of is shrink’s office. It’s the “big” moment when Charlie tells Alan what e felt when he heard about his family. It’s also his chance to bring hem to life again through his thoughts and memories. The scene demands subtlety, but Binder shoots it full-on like the clips they show at the scars that scream, “Watch me — I’m acting!” You leave Reign Over Me feeling as if you’ve been crushed by an anvil.