|Reign Over Me (2007)
Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv
Tyler, Safforn Burrows, Mike Binder, Ted Raimi
Director: Mike Binder
It’s difficult to decide which aspect of “Reign Over Me” is worse: is it bad because of the overwrought melodrama, or is it bad because it exploits the events of 9/11 as a back story for that overwrought melodrama? “If you don’t like our half-baked dramedy about loss and healing, then the terrorists win.” Ye gods.
Don Cheadle is Alan Johnson, a successful Manhattan dentist who sees his former roommate from college, Charlie (Adam Sandler, who looks like Bob Dylan’s lost son), riding down the street on a scooter. The disheveled Charlie doesn’t recognize Alan at first, which takes Alan by surprise. Eventually, Alan realizes that Charlie is merely repressing his memory: Charlie’s wife and three daughters were on the flight out of Boston on 9/11, and Charlie still hasn’t recovered from the loss. He flips between being non-responsive and violently angry, but Alan is the only person so far that seems able to get through to him. Charlie, however, is the least of Alan’s problems. He has a “stalker” at his practice (Saffron Burrows), and she’s making his business partners uncomfortable.
The writer/director of “Reign Over Me,” Mike Binder, used to be a comedian. He directed the 1994 Damon Wayans, um, comedy “Blankman.” It does not appear that he has learned much about the role over the course of his 12 directorial jobs. The movie is filled with lots of wide open, car-free New York City streets on which Sandler can drive his scooter, which goes 10 mph tops. (In one unintentionally funny scene, Charlie putters on his scooter through a tunnel; in the real world, some New York driver surely would have capped him.) His fade and cut techniques look like the work of a novice, and the movie has no real sense of pacing or timing, which is ironic coming from a former comedian. The shifts from light comedy to disturbing drama are random and poorly planned, and Binder’s lumbering use of rock music is borderline comical. There are several shots of what’s playing on Charlie’s iPod, and don’t think for a minute that Binder is above having Charlie sing a certain Who song at the top of his lungs at some point in the third act. Indeed, one could argue that the reason Binder was allowed to direct his script was because he was willing to spend a significant chunk of the movie plugging the PS2 game “Shadow of the Colossus” (made by Columbia Pictures’ parent company Sony), which Charlie played nonstop…on a PlayStation 3. Go figure.
Cheadle appears to be the only one here who’s trying to rise above the material. Pinkett Smith is saddled with the role of suffering wife, so she doesn’t have much of a choice. Sandler probably has a great dramatic performance in him, but it’ll take a better director than Binder and a better role than Charlie to get it out of him. Burrows is nothing more than cheesecake, and Liv Tyler as a shrink is a big, big stretch. Had they flipped the roles of those two, you’re talking about a much different movie. It may not have been better, but it would have been more believable (well, aside from the whole ‘hot chick wants to blow the dentist’ subplot). By the time a certain acting legend makes his appearance near the end, the movie is practically a parody.There is a good movie to be made about the people who lost loved ones to the events of 9/11, but “Reign Over Me” is not it. Rather, this feels like it was a story that gathered dust in some studio vault until it was retrofitted to be about 9/11 widows and widowers. They deserve better, and so do we.