Reign Over Me

dir: Mike Binder
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Hmmm, Adam Sandler in a serious role again. Smells like Oscarbait to me.

Reign Over Me is a somewhat manipulative attempt by the filmmakers to both make Sandler look like an Oscar contender and to use the September 11th attacks to tug at the heartstrings of gooey audiences everywhere.

When I think of that terrible day, I don’t say to myself: “what I really need is a way to make the tragedy personal, to understand it in the scope of the impact it had on one person. And I want that person to be Adam Sandler looking like a very dishevelled Bob Dylan”.

I mean, after all, no tragedy is more hard-hitting or better explained except when it’s done by a comedian.

In a lot of ways, though Sandler isn’t as excruciating as you would expect, he plays the role the same way he plays every role, whether it’s a comedy or not. It’s still the same character - an aging poster child for arrested adolescence deals with, uh, stuff – that he plays in absolutely everything he’s ever played.

If there are problems with this film, fundamental problems, they’re not Sandler’s obvious fault. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, so maybe Sandler did compel the makers to include far more of the puerile humour Sandler is comfortable with. All I know is that a lot of the supporting stuff around Sandler is pretty piss-weak compared to his ‘masterful’ performance, and some of it is downright insulting.

Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a dentist living in New York City, bumps into his former college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), who acts like he doesn’t recognise him. Charlie acts like a bit of a retard, but we are rapidly informed that it is due to grief. Big, stinky piles of grief that have swamped Charlie and made him unable to deal with the world around him in any way more focussed than an autistic kid could.

Charlie lost his wife and three daughters in some awful circumstance, due to the plane they were flying on being rudely flown into a building. You might have heard something about it several years ago. Apparently it was a big deal in the States.

Anyway, he’s been a wreck since they’ve been gone, and his former friend decides it’s his responsibility to bring Charlie out of the funk he’s been in.

Alan is something of a weak bitch. His wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a bit of a controlling shrew, and Alan longs to return to the days of drinking till all hours and having a complete lack of family responsibility to enjoy his free time with. With Charlie he gets to go to punk gigs, tool around the surprisingly empty streets of New York on the back of a motorised scooter, and play video games like Shadows of the Colossus till the early hours. Needless to say, his wife is not a fan of the newly independent-thinking Alan.

At the same time, a mentally deranged yet (allegedly) attractive dental patient offers to blow Alan in his office. When he rebuffs her, she files a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

So Alan tries to balance the needs of his family, with his work responsibilities, with his blowjob rejecting issues and their ensuing legal ramifications, all the while trying to heal Charlie and make him whole again.

The main issue with Charlie, apart from being depressed, prone to fits of shouting and violence, and speaking like Mickey Rourke in his worst movies, is that he pretends not to be able to remember having had a family at all. When anyone tries to remind him of them, he tends to go berserk. When Alan’s continued meddling and visits with a useless therapist (Liv Tyler) lead to the enforced remembrance of his family and his tremendous loss, he becomes suicidal. The scenes where he contemplates death-by-cop are pretty disturbing. The follow-up scenes minimising the magnitude of his actions are disturbing for entirely different reasons.

And there was no reason for Donald Sutherland to have a brief cameo here, in the same way that there is never a good reason to have Donald Sutherland in any film.

It plays these ‘serious’ dramatic moments straight down the line. Although you can argue about how idiotic it is to include some of the other plot elements, and the idiocy with which the main story is resolved with the help of Crazy Blowjob Woman, the dramatic elements are actually well done. Sandler does a credible job with expressing the pain of his loss at certain times. He’s not so credible with the freak out moments, or the ‘channelling Dustin Hoffman from Rainman’ moments.

In fact, for a two-hour film, the less credible aspects outnumber the credible, even as it manages to still be an entertaining flick. Don Cheadle, who is generally a great actor, actually comes across as weak compared to Sandler, which is like watching a race between a racehorse and a Shetland pony, and watching the pony walk away with the winner’s sash. Cheadle is confused, confusing, and unbelievable in his role as good Samaritan beyond all measure. We understand that his attempts to help Charlie are noble if misguided, but we don’t really understand how it is that he manages to work, be family guy and still drop everything that he is doing every time Charlie appears. And we don’t understand why it becomes so important to him to help someone he hasn’t seen for 15 years.

Their relationship consists of Charlie acting like they’re still fratboys, and by goading Alan into committing various fratboy-like acts. I see the attraction, I assure you, but when all you have in common with someone is some times you spent together 15 years ago, with no present and no apparent future, especially with someone who’s mentally ill, it’s hard to see what’s in it for Alan.

And there’s a separate subplot with Alan deciding that he feels a bit alienated from his wife because he doesn’t talk to her. It’s as facile as it sounds, and it is resolved in a similarly facile manner.

The ending is implausible and, in many ways, the most insane ending they could have imagined as being a ‘happy’ ending. It really could not have been more insane if Charlie had been magically absorbed into his Playstation game and gone off to live happily ever after battling the fantastical beasties contained therein.

But as weak as it was, and as weak as many elements were throughout the movie, I still enjoyed it, and, I’m almost ashamed to say that I was moved to tears (much to my surprise) by some moments of Sandler’s performance.

Anyone who’s experienced wrenching grief and loss knows some of the temptations that Charlie succumbs to, even if they might feel the extremes they are taken to are a tad ridiculous. When it focuses on some of those aspects, it does okay.

When the story degenerates into broad comedy, Sandler forgets what character he’s playing, and reverts to the same character he’s played from Happy Gilmore onwards.

Still, it’s not completely worthless. Now that’s a ringing recommendation.

6 ways in which Saffron Burrows looks terrifying as the emaciated blowjob / love interest out of 10

“He likes you Alan. You know why? Because you know nothing about his family.” – Reign Over Me.