HomeMovie Reviews

TV Addict

DVD Extras

Ill-Literate (Book Reviews)

Listen, Hear (Music)

FilmStarrr (Celebrity Interviews)

Stuf ... (Product Reviews)

...and Nonsense (Site News)


Hit me up, yo! (Contact)





S’a funny thing about Adam Sandler (- or not), I’ve never been a fan. Never got the appeal. Clearly many did, making his 90’s comedies a profitable franchise. Despite my ambivalence toward the Sandler shtick, I was still intrigued seeing the TV spots for Reign Over Me. I had witnessed Sandler’s previous attempts at being a serious actor and noticed they hadn’t made the same sensation as, say, Happy Gilmore. I thought then that people simply weren’t prepared to see an actor in a serious dramatic role who had made a fortune out of talking like a baby. Nevertheless, seeing Don Cheadle in the ads, made me question my urge to dismiss the movie out of hand. Cheadle is one of my favourite working actors today. Don Cheadle is one of those actors that’s as dependable as the arrival of a city bus 30 seconds after you’ve lit your cigarette. Dependable as a Tokyo bullet train. As dependable as seeing at least 15 Head-On commercials for every break in your favourite TV show. Guy can bring depth and meaning to a reading of a stop sign. I even got over his poxy British accent in Ocean’s 11. If Don Cheadle is mixed up in a project with Adam Sandler, who am I not to give it a chance?  

The result is Reign Over Me; Cheadle plays Alan Johnson, a successful Manhattan dentist going through a touch of middle age crazy, who comes across Sandler’s Charlie Fineman, his college roommate. Charlie’s life has been destroyed by the loss of his wife and children on one of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers. Charlie’s connection to reality is tenuous and selective. His only coping mechanism is his reversion to a child-like state where he is a perpetual teenager playing videogames endlessly, jamming in punk bands, and tooling around the city on his gas-powered scooter. Charlie, once a successful dentist himself, lives in the beautiful Stuyvesant Square townhouse he shared with his wife and children, now completely barren, but for his huge collection of vinyl LP’s and a kitchen in constant renovation. Any mention of his family or the tragic incident is enough to send Charlie into a violent rage that can only be soothed by the application of his omnipresent headphones blasting the music he grew up with that is now his touchstone, e.g. The Who’s “Love, Reign o’er Me” – geddit? 

I think many people will come into this movie expecting much tsuris about one person’s very direct suffering due to the attacks on the Twin Towers, and there is that. The credit to the film is that it transcends and overcomes its very difficult co-star and becomes a very touching film about the pain of losing loved ones and holding those who are still here as close as you can. The parallels between Andy’s and Charlie’s lives are clearly set, and Andy’s mid-life crisis envy for Charlie’s freedom is finely brought crashing down to reality when Andy experiences a heartbreaking loss of his own. Charlie’s reaction to that loss is also a heart stopping moment, where Andy finally beings to see how completely detached from reality his old friend really is. Charlie’s not just acting like a happy-go-lucky teenager because he can, this cat is disturbed and in desperate need of help. Add to Charlie’s issues the pressure best-intentioned in-laws who, in their grieving, are unable to understand Charlie’s rejection of them and his repudiation of the memory of their daughter and grandchildren. Even glimpsing a news broadcast referencing the tragedy is enough to set Charlie off into fits of deep depression; mentioning his past, his family, or any attempt to have him seek help sets Charlie into a violent rage that eventually gets the best of him. It’s only Charlie’s trust in Andy allows him to get Charlie into several unsuccessful psychiatric sessions.  

The downside of this movie is its patness. There are too many coincidences and revelatory moments that occur that stretch the belief-o-meter. In a very awkward subplot, Andy is being sexually harassed by Donna, one of his patients, played by the gorgeous Saffron Burrows. After Andy rebuffs her, Donna, a woman gone through a traumatic divorce, threatens unfounded lawsuits against Andy’s practise to get his attention, but somehow not only does it turn out okay in the end, but her entire existence seems to have been written in to provide Charlie with an also-crazy love interest. They are so perfectly matched that they even meet for the first time while going to the same psychiatrist. Small world, ne? You can almost time the moment when Charlie decides to confide the story of his family and their passing, he just ups and spills it in a jarringly predictable way. The climax of the film (trying so hard to keep from spoilerage) resolves itself in an almost checklist-like fashion.  

There were notable things about this movie; more as I’ve let it ruminate in my head for a bit. That Don Cheadle guy... Dunno if I hinted at my slight admiration, but playing essentially the straight role to Sandler’s splashier Charlie, gave the characters chemistry, realness and gravity. Supporting Cheadle was a very impressive collection of actors for what was clearly a very personal and intimate film. Jada Pinkett Smith deserves praise as Andy’s sensible, loving wife, Janeane, who is a beacon of strength and support, even as she struggles with the erratic behaviour that’s come of Andy’s quest for a second childhood after reconnecting with Charlie. She isn’t given that much to do, but what there is she does radiantly. It’s nice to see Liv Tyler doing stuff again, although I didn’t completely believe her as Charlie’s psychiatrist: Charlie didn’t either - many times during their sessions, Charlie rocks back & forth in his seat muttering “you’re too young, you’re way too young.” And while she looks gorgeous, and bless her flawless baby face, it works against her here. I would’ve preferred to see Saffron Burrows as the doctor, instead. Donald Sutherland has a small role as a judge, and true to form, anytime he opens his mouth, there’s no one else on the screen. So, how’s Adam Sandler? Not bad, really. As I mentioned waaaay back in this piece, I was hesitant to see whether or not he could pull off a dramatic piece where he wouldn’t be using his trademark baby gibberish. Well… it’s perfect casting as he does get to use a little of that eternal man-boy persona as Charlie, with uncombed hair and same outfit every day (- he’s a ringer for fellow Long-Islander wrestler Mick Foley), and yes, he does speak in an arrested, high pitched pubescent mumble. His slow, unsteady crawl back to a semblance of sanity is marked by more lucidity in his speech, and for Sandler it’s the best vehicle he’s had to demonstrate that he can take on a heavy dramatic role. He gives Charlie depth and dimension, and while most definitely some of the moments are meant to get you to turn on the waterworks, Sandler works hard for it.  

Special props for choice of more realistic Manhattan locations, the ones that people who actually live there would know and relate to, just like the characters in the film; it lent a nice note of authenticity to underscore this one New Yorker’s story. One of the things I credit Reign Over Me for is that it was a story that, yes, dealt with the terrible losses the day of the Twin Towers attack, but I never felt they were playing it for maudlin sentimentality or cramming the tragedy down my throat to make its point. Reign Over Me strikes a delicate balance using some nice comedy touches, and the references are sensitive and real to anyone who was in NYC, or otherwise directly affected the day of the attacks. But thankfully, the film’s lessons about trying to cope with loss are universal and not completely specific to that tragedy. It’s very heartfelt. And while I felt the film was contrived and pat to the point of flatness, and the plot depended too much on happy serendipity to move the action along, I appreciated the care taken by director Mike Binder and his excellent cast to tell Charlie’s story.      


~ Mighty Ganesha

March 26th, 2007 


PS: And another note for those who know… You would have to pry the lease for that incredible Stuyvesant Square apartment from my cold, dead trunk before I willingly gave it up – honestly, that’s what convinced me Charlie was crazy-cuckoo-nuts.


2006-2022 The Diva Review.com




(Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment)