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Reign Over Me

Meandering, Unfocused 9/11 Drama

Last year, Hollywood took its first tentative steps to examining the events surrounding 9/11. United 93 and World Trade Center focused exclusively on key events before, during, and immediately after the 9/11 attacks, but Hollywood has been thus far reluctant to explore the psychological fallout that followed that day. Written and directed by Mike Binder (Man About Town, The Upside of Anger), Reign Over Me follows a character directly affected by 9/11 and its aftermath as he tries to find his way back to the world of the living.

By turns comedic and dramatic, Reign Over Me has its share of insights into the emotional and psychological effects that follow a traumatic, life-changing event, but it ultimately falters on a loosely structured, episodic storyline that becomes increasingly contrived and hard to accept on an emotional or dramatic level.

Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) seemingly has it all, a lucrative career as a Manhattan dentist, a loving wife, Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith), and two daughters. Something, though, is missing. Maybe itís Janeaneís smothering attitude toward their free time, maybe itís a career thatís no longer fulfilling, the tangled web of responsibilities and obligations, or maybe the attractive patient, Donna Remar (Saffron Burrows), who makes a pass at him. Whatever the reason, Johnson is rapidly approaching a midlife crisis. Daily walks and talks with Dr. Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler) who has an office where Allan works donít do much to improve his attitude or his outlook on life.

Then Alan crosses paths with Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), Allanís old college buddy/roommate and former dentist who lost his wife and daughters on 9/11. Charlie spends his days tooling around Manhattan on a motorized scooter, listening to classic rock (Bruce Springsteen and The Who are favorites), collecting vinyl, endlessly redecorating the kitchen in his apartment, and obsessively playing ďShadow of the ColossusĒ, an action/adventure Sony Playstation 2 videogame. Alan and Charlie tentatively renew their friendship, but Alanís attempts to get Charlie into counseling donít proceed as planned or hoped.

With a TV-movie-of-the-week storyline driven by two characters in search of personal meaning and renewed hope, Reign Over Me could have easily lapsed into sentimentality or melodrama. It's to writer/director Binder's credit that the film does not. Still, points for restraint only get you so far. With a two-hour running time, Reign Over Me is too long. It's also too loose and episodic, punctuated by the odd personal or professional crisis. Charlie's temper tantrums lead directly to two heavily contrived plot turns, one involving New York's Finest and the other involving Donald Sutherland as a soporific judge blissfully unaware of the law.

In his third attempt at a dramatic role (after Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish), comedian-turned-actor Sandler sticks close to the temperamental man-child persona he's honed in countless low- or middlebrow comedies (e.g. Anger Management, The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer, Happy Gilmore). On the plus side, Sandler's persona fits the grief-stricken, repressed Charlie character.

Don Cheadle fares better, much better as Alan. As a character, Alan is the straight man to Charlie's eccentric behavior. Alan's personal journey is shorter, as befits a character that ends up reaffirming where he is, what he has, and what his future will hold. That leaves Cheadle with less to work with emotionally than Sandler's broader role. Luckily, Cheadle is up to the quieter, more nuanced turn that Johnson requires.

Reign Over Me is never less than watchable when Cheadle takes center stage or plays off against Sandlerís character. For that much, we can and should be thankful, until the pacing begins to drag again and Sandler steps in to deliver one his trademark outbursts. Reign Over Me could have been much better with either a different actor as Charlie or Sandler minus his trademark outbursts.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars