Adam Sandler as Charlie Fineman
Don Cheadle as Alan Johnson
Jada Pinkett Smith as Janeane Johnson
Liv Tyler as Angela Oakhurst
Saffron Burrows as Donna Remar
Donald Sutherland as Judge Raines
Robert Klein as Jonathan Timpleman
Melinda Dillon as Ginger Timpleman
Mike Binder as Bryan Sugarman
Jonathan Banks as Stelter
Rae Allen as Adell Modell
Paula Newsome as Melanie
John de Lancie as Nigel Pennington
Paul Butler as George Johnson
Camille LaChe Smith as Cherie Johnson
Directed by Mike Binder
With “Reign Over Me,” Mike Binder invents a strange new genre of “buddy drama” showcasing fine performances by Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler that sometimes make up for the slow pace, dry tone and erratic nature of the film.
Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) lost his entire family when their plane was flown into the World Trade Center on 9/11, but four years later, he reconnects with his college roommate Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a dentist who’s having his own problems both at home and at the office. As Alan tries to help Charlie deal with his grief, he also finds an outlet for his own woes by escaping into Charlie’s carefree lifestyle.
Mike Binder’s last few movies have tried to mix equal parts comedy with drama, and though “Reign Over Me” is able to do this more smoothly than his past few attempts, the humor is also subtler, maybe because it deals with a guy who’s fallen out of touch with reality after losing his entire family in the 9/11 attacks.
Initially, the story focuses on Don Cheadle’s Dr. Alan Johnson, a dentist put upon by his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) for them to do everything together while dealing with issues at the office, specifically a gorgeous female patient who’s become obsessed with him. When Alan spots his old college roommate Charlie (Sandler) riding around the city on his moped, Alan approaches him in hopes of catching up after learning that Charlie lost his family on 9/11. Charlie is now a shell of a man, borderline autistic and completely out of touch with reality, playing video games and living in denial by acting like he doesn’t remember what happened to his family. As the two old friends start spending more time together, it gives Alan an excuse not to spend as much time with his wife, but the more time he spends escaping into “Charlie World,” the worse his situation gets at home and at the office.
Binder’s latest film is a strange but intriguing drama that covers weighty topics that aren’t often dealt with in movies, at least not in this fashion, specifically friendship and how different people deal with grief and loss. Some of Binder’s observations about married life mirror Chris Rock’s recent comedy “I Think I Love My Wife” and they’re handled in an equally masculine way, but ultimately, this is a stronger movie than “Upside of Anger” in its attempt to fit together different ideas and developments. Sometime it’s all over the place in tone as it tries to keep things light while dealing with heavy topics, but the relationship between Charlie and Alan is interesting enough to keep things afloat.
By playing down his natural inclination for hamming it up, Charlie is a stronger dramatic role for Sandler than his part in “Spanglish” but when Charlie starts ranting and getting out-of-control, it’s hard not to think that Sandler’s doing a character bit like his role in “The Waterboy.” Those scenes aren’t particularly funny though, which might throw anyone off who is expecting at least a few laughs from Sandler. Instead, the funniest moments come from elsewhere, like Paula Newsome, as Alan’s “take no crap” receptionist, and Donald Sutherland shows up towards the end as a judge at a trial to determine whether Charlie needs to be committed. The acting legend nearly steals the movie with his tough treatment of the lawyers and Charlie’s in-laws, adding some much needed levity in what might have been the most depressing part of the movie.
Though Sandler’s return to drama is going to be this movie’s main selling point, it’s really Don Cheadle’s movie for at least the first hour, as the actor delivers another strong performance as a man trying to help an old friend while looking for solutions in his own life. When Charlie agrees to see Alan’s therapist friend–a surprisingly mature role for Liv Tyler–things shift over to Charlie’s point of view and then stays there for the rest of the movie. Just as you’re getting use to the film’s languid routine of alternating between two or three situations, things do get a bit more interesting after Charlie finally opens up in one of the film’s more heartfelt scenes.
While Binder once again takes the least desirable role for himself, that of a sleazy attorney who has latched onto Charlie’s insurance money, Jada Pinkett Smith gets shafted a bit in her role as Alan’s wife, disappearing and being forgotten for good portions of the movie only to show up at the end to bring a resolution to Alan’s situation.
The Bottom Line:
Far too slow at times, “Reign Over Me” would have been greatly improved with some thoughtful pruning, but it also shows tremendous growth by Binder as a filmmaker, taking what might have been a number of mundane ideas and assembling them into a powerful story, driven by strong writing and acting. While it might not seem like much while you’re watching it, certain topics are handled in a way that the movie’s likely to grow on you and get you thinking long after you watch it.