Reign Over Me
2007, R, 124 min. Directed by Mike Binder. Starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Donald Sutherland, Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 23, 2007
“Only love can bring the rain,” go the lyrics to the Who’s dramatic rock anthem, “Love, Reign O’er Me” from Quadrophenia. Writer/director Binder (The Upside of Anger) appears to have fashioned a whole film to echo the song’s expansive sentiments and sonic grandeur (though the song is performed in the film by Pearl Jam rather than the Who). But it’s relevant to Binder’s lead character Charlie Fineman (Sandler), who, in contrast with his surname, is anything but fine. Having lost his wife and children on 9/11, he quit his job as a dentist and now – several years after 9/11 – wanders the streets of Manhattan on an electric scooter with ear-encasing headphones clamped to his head to block out – what? The past? The future? He only brims with life when discussing arcane music references, playing the video game Colossus on his wide-screen TV, or during a Mel Brooks marathon at the cinema. But then he runs across Alan Johnson (Cheadle), his old roommate from dental school, who takes it upon himself to try to resuscitate his friend, and in the process, also winds up reviving his own life, which has been growing stale. (Pinkett Smith is cast in the thankless role of his nagging wife.) Despite being a story about life in New York post-9/11, the film does not dwell on the tragedy. Binder is more interested in piercing “the mind of the married man” (to employ the title of his career-making HBO series). Again adopting a dramatic persona, Sandler shows his desire to do more than be a Happy Gilmore for the rest of his career. His work here is decent, though hardly revelatory, but his game is raised several notches by Cheadle’s masterful presence. Cheadle takes what could have been a role as a mere foil and creates a rich portrait of a vaguely discontented married man. Yet the drama sputters once it reaches a contrived and melodramatic climax that feels undernourished and artificial – both less than and more than one had hoped for. Reign Over Me is disjointed and needlessly sentimental, though its whole often compensates for its sketchy parts.