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REIGN OVER ME
U.S. Release Date: March 23, 2007
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Mike Binder
Writer: Mike Binder
Producer: Jack Giarraputo (executive)
Composer: Rolfe Kent
Cast: Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Liv Tyler, Saffron Burrows, Cicely Tyson, Donald Sutherland, Joey King
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (language and some sexual references)

Misguided Men Take Manhattan
by Scott Holleran

The prominently featured rock soundtrack for Reign Over Me could have included the Beatles' "All You Need is Love," which expresses this picture's unobjectionable take on life. But it would have been too upbeat in a movie too content to writhe in agony.

Two ex-roommates reconnect after college and help each other get a grip on reality, at least that's what writer and director Mike Binder was apparently going for, replacing the wonderful women of The Upside of Anger with dour Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle in a reconstructed bond of male friendship.

Both were trained as dentists, with each starting a successful Manhattan practice, eventually gaining wives and children. We meet them later, after the Sandler character, Charlie, has literally lost his family (they were on one of the hijacked planes used in the 9/11 attack, which we find out much later). The Cheadle character, Alan, is on the verge of losing his.

With a rambling plot spiked with songs by Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and The Who, Reign Over Me stops and starts a long overindulgence in arrested development. Sandler's Charlie has apparently regressed to his pre-college youth, wandering New York's streets on a scooter, playing video games and muttering like Bogart on Novocain. The dental practice is long gone.

Meanwhile, bland Alan wrestles with a mid-life crisis, indicated by his lack of assertiveness, his controlling wife (Jada Pinkett Smith, doing her best, looking good and deserving better) and the creep of sameness. He'd rather do anything than finish a jigsaw puzzle or take a class with his wife, which is where Charlie—rolling past Alan on the scooter one day—comes in.

Reconnecting, the old chums, who never seem like old chums, and never seem like they could have been old chums, hop on the scooter for a night of punk rock and scoot to a Mel Brooks marathon. If this is what passes for middle aged liberation, hand over the jigsaw puzzle. Anyone who chooses a night with catatonic Charlie over photography class with Pinkett Smith deserves a tooth extraction.

But this is Binder's idea of bonding, mistaking shared aimlessness for a good time. It's a familiar refrain, that slacking off is the opposite of going along, but it doesn't take hold in these characters. Alan conceals, deceives and seeks the unearned while whining about his charmed life yet he recovers from a loved one's death in no time, opening his door to volatile, offensive Charlie in plain view of grieving relatives—including his children.

Charlie is a loon, hiding from his in-laws (nice to see Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon on screen again) and physically assaulting anything that reminds him he's a human being and not an appendage to a video game console. Alan doesn't just take him in; he takes him to work, endangering his patients and colleagues alike.

Together, they're a pair of emotional twerps. Throw in a sex addict (Saffron Burrows) played for laughs, then for pathos, a twentysomething psychoanalyst (Liv Tyler) and Donald Sutherland as a harping judge and Reign Over Me, paraphrasing someone in the movie, is a mess.

As Alan, Cheadle is vacant—today's dominant quality in actors—and he's not convincing as a person let alone a friend. As Charlie, Sandler plays Sandler toned down.

What Alan, whose intervention is the movie's climax, intends for teetering-on-the-edge Charlie (who just happens to have the wits to manage a multimillion dollar estate and hire a barracuda attorney played by Mike Binder) is: Let it be. That's it—merely let the post-traumatic stress disorder basket case be. Not a bad prescription for grief, really, but not a remedy for immature characters in what is unfortunately not a good movie.


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