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Overall Rating

Awesome: 2.27%
Worth A Look: 25%
Just Average: 15.91%
Pretty Crappy52.27%
Sucks: 4.55%

5 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Reign Over Me
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"A Not-So-Amazing Journey"
2 stars

If “Reign Over Me” had been released four or five years ago, the combination of a relatively serious performance from Adam Sandler and a narrative invoking the psychic scars of 9/11 might have gotten by solely on the basis of the novelty value. However, since Sandler has already demonstrated his non-comedic acting chops to good effect in “Punch Drunk Love” and “Spanglish” and many films and TV shows have grappled with the effects of that grim day in the past few years, “Reign Over Me” is forced to live or die on the basis of its own strengths and weaknesses instead and in this particular case, not even the considerable efforts of a talented cast are able to overcome a slipshod screenplay filled with too many narrative dead-ends, too many half-developed characters and a concluding reel that is likely to enrage anyone in the audience with an emotional investment in the story.

Sandler plays Charlie Fineman, a New York dentist whose life essentially shut down on September 11, 2001 when his beloved wife and three young daughters wound up on one of the planes that was hijacked into the Twin Towers. Since then, he has cut himself off from the world and spends his days and nights either holed up in his apartment playing videogames and endlessly remodeling his kitchen or roaming the streets of Manhattan on a motor scooter with a klunky pair of earphones plastered atop a hairstyle that appears to be his personal homage to the cover of Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” (In case you were wondering how he can afford to do all this, we learn that between insurance policies and a settlement check from the government, he is sitting on enough money to handle the rent on a jumbo-sized apartment, tender an offer of a million dollars to someone as a form of apology and afford the pricey song cues that accompany him on his jaunts.) One day, Charlie runs into Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), an old friend he hasn’t seen since college, on the street but doesn’t seem to recognize him at all. Alan is aware of Charlie’s loss but doesn’t grasp at first just how isolated former roommate has become and when he initially tries to reach out to him, Charlie violently turns on him and stomps out into the night.

Alan persists and Charlie gradually begins to let him into an orbit that consists of take-out food, all-night Xbox contests, scrounging for classic vinyl albums and Mel Brooks marathons. If this sounds like the behavior of a college student and not a functioning adult, that is precisely the point–for Charlie, the only way to process his grief is to revert back to the person he was long before having the family that he would eventually lose. Since he wasn’t in contact with Alan during that period, he can’t possibly trigger any memories of that period and is therefore safe to be around in his mind. For a little bit, Alan–who has a controlling wife (Jada Pinkett Smith), three kids, two cranky parents and a trumped-up sexual harassment suit from a lovelorn patient (Saffron Burrows) to deal with–is envious of Charlie’s freedom but when he experiences a tragedy of his own, he comes to realize that his friend is in need of serious professional help to aid him in dealing with his grief. After a couple of false starts, Alan convinces Charlie to see a therapist (Liv Tyler) and the visits eventually force him to really confront things for the first time. (We won’t even get into the fact that the notion of Liv Tyler portraying a Manhattan therapist is perhaps the most optimistic casting since Joey Lauren Adams essayed the role of a Harvard philosophy professor in “Harvard Man.”)

“Reign Over Me” was written and directed by Mike Binder, whose last film (at least the last one released in theaters) was “The Upside of Anger,” another story involving people dealing with loss and grief in colorful ways. Besides sharing similar plot conceits, the two films also share the same central flaw–the presence of Mike Binder as a writer and director. For starters, he doesn’t really write fully fleshed-out screenplays–he comes up with a few individual showcase scenes designed to attract actors eager to show off their performance chops and then desperately tries to lash them all together without giving any thought to whether they all fit together or not. You would think that the basic storyline of a man trying to pull an old friend out of his spiral of grief would be compelling enough and indeed, the film works best when it concentrates solely on that dynamic. However, he then muddies the waters by throwing in such superfluous elements as the hottie patient with the sexual harassment claim, Cheadle’s conflicts at work with the partners in his dental firm when they refuse to back him up regarding said claim and at home with his loving-but-demanding wife. I presume that Binder wanted to include these bits to approximate the messiness of everyday life but having introduced them, you might also presume that he would deal with them in some satisfactory manner. Instead, they are either more or less ignored (the stuff with the wife) or wrapped up in a manner that suggests that Binder was looking for an easy crowd-pleasing moment even if it didn’t make much sense (Cheadle gets to tell off his partners, even though there is a line of dialogue–one that is frustratingly never brought up again–that suggests that they may have been justified in not immediately believing his claims). In the case of the harassment suit, he abandons the plot point but keeps bringing the woman back so often and with so little rational reason that even Saffron Burrows seems confused as to why her character is still hanging around on the fringes.

If “Reign Over Me” doesn’t quite hold up in the details, it is equally shaky in regards to the broad strokes. For starters, the whole 9/11 angle turns out to be somewhat of a red herring because the film isn’t really about that specific event as much as it is a general study of how people process grief in the wake of an enormous tragedy. Again, I don’t have a problem with that but if you aren’t going to deal with 9/11 specifically, why bring it up at all–Charlie’s family could have been wiped out in a car accident and the story could have played out in virtually the same way (though the gimmick of the gargantuan government and insurance payouts might have needed a bit of tweaking). After a while, I began to get the sense that Binder was using 9/11 is the same way that other filmmakers will trot out the Holocaust–an easy way to provoke strong emotions from viewers without having to do any real heavy lifting of his own.

However, the most irritating aspect of the film by far is the way that Binder has chosen to end the film. You would think that there would be any number of ways to conclude this story in an emotionally satisfying manner and Binder even manages to stumble upon one–a lovely little moment between two characters in a Chinese restaurant that hits all the right notes without drowning in a sea of cliches and false sentiment. If the end credits had rolled at this point, I might have been able to forgive most of the other flaws that I have previously mentioned. Instead, Binder decides to shoot his film in the foot by giving us the most tiresome gimmick imaginable–a courtroom climax in which the heartless former in-laws try to get Charlie committed and the meanie prosecutor sets him off by displaying photos of his late family. Generally, the presence of a courtroom climax in a film that isn’t a legal thriller (or “Miracle on 34th Street”) is often a sign of screenwriting at its absolute laziest in the way that it allows the characters to sum up the themes of the film in the most obvious manner possible while supplying a clearly-defined winner and loser for audiences who don’t cotton to subtlety. That said, the problem with the courtroom climax here is that it is so preposterous–the prosecutor pulls tricks that would get him thrown out of any real court, Charlie breaks down right on cue (while screaming out the lyrics to the Who song that gives the film its title) and seemingly every single character seen in the film (including the sexual harassment woman) appears to be crammed into the courtroom–that it makes the trial in “Duck Soup” look like fricking “Prince of the City” by comparison and not even the magisterial presence of Donald Sutherland, an actor with the kind of voice who can make almost anything sound 100% plausible, is able to salvage things. (Then again, considering the way in which Binder wrapped up “The Upside of Anger,” I guess that we should probably consider ourselves lucky that he doesn’t end it with Sandler’s character discovering that his wife and kids disappeared into a giant pothole in the alley behind their apartment.)

What almost makes “Reign Over Me” bearable, at least to a certain point, are the fine performances from virtually the entire cast. Although the character that Adam Sandler is playing is essentially a more serious-minded version of the type that he usually plays in his dumb comedies–an man-child in the grips of a prolonged adolescence with serious emotional problems, a hair-trigger temper and fondness for describing people as “fags”–his work in the more dramatic moments should convince naysayers that he is capable of interesting things as an actor when he wants to make the effort. (However, Binder does him no favors with the ham-fisted use of Bruce Springsteen’s “Drive All Night” as underscoring for his big breakdown scene, a moment that he could have easily pulled off without the music helping to underline the emotions.) The always-excellent Don Cheadle is at the top of his game here as well–this is the most impressive work he has done in a long time as well. In smaller roles, Jada Pinkett Smith and Liv Tyler are both quite good even though they don’t have much to do. Unfortunately, their considerable efforts wind up going to waste in the service of a project that is ultimately nothing more than a really expensive TV movie that doesn’t deserve them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15604&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/23/07 05:26:07
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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

4/16/17 Anne Selby could have been great 2 stars
12/03/08 Shaun Wallner Fell asleep to this one. 2 stars
11/11/08 damalc moving. cheadle always great. nice change for sandler. 4 stars
10/31/08 ldavies I liked the casting and the script. 4 stars
8/11/08 Jon G A learning experience 4 stars
11/27/07 mike a plotless movie that seemed annoying and dumb 1 stars
11/21/07 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
3/25/07 Joe The movie is right and deep...about how to handle grief 5 stars
3/22/07 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)
  DVD: 09-Oct-2007

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