‘Reign Over Me’ glosses over 2 complicated characters

  • Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 22, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It’s time again for another serious Adam Sandler role, although lately even his comedies (like “Click”) have been getting deep-dish on us.

“Reign Over Me” gives Sandler a harrowing part: Charlie, a disturbed man who lost his entire family on Sept. 11, 2001.

A former dentist, now he sits alone in his apartment, endlessly remodeling his kitchen and playing video games.

Until, that is, he bumps into an old college roommate, Alan (Don Cheadle), and the two men become friends again. Alan is also a dentist, and his life is affluent and apparently secure -supportive wife (Jada Pinkett Smith), children, giant Manhattan apartment. But he’s missing something, too.

Writer-director Mike Binder (“The Upside of Anger”) crowds this situation with some bizarre complications: Alan has a gorgeous patient (Saffron Burrows) who offers him sex and then threatens a harassment lawsuit after he turns her down. Meanwhile, even as Charlie ventures a foot back in the real world, his outbursts become more violent and unpredictable.

Other characters crowd the scene: Charlie’s confused and pushy in-laws (Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon), a tough judge (Donald Sutherland), and a psychotherapist in the very unlikely form of Liv Tyler.

Sandler acquits himself without embarrassment. The role is an unofficial expansion on his wonderful “Punch Drunk Love” performance, although here he’s shaggy and shambling, the kind of guy you wouldn’t be surprised to see shouting at himself as he walks down the street.

It’s really Don Cheadle’s movie, as we experience the story through his eyes and he’s onscreen much longer than Sandler. Few actors convey weakness better than Cheadle (maybe William H. Macy), and he creates a believable portrait of a mid-life crisis. Or at least a mid-life quandary.

What’s not so believable is how all this plays out. Binder (who plays a weasely supporting role, as he did in “Upside of Anger”) is certainly serious about his goals, but there’s a once-over-lightly quality to the film that allows everything to get boiled down to single-sentence explanations (Charlie is grieving, Alan envies Charlie’s freedom from responsibilities). Unfortunately, poor Jada Pinkett Smith is stuck delivering a bunch of these.

They don’t even get the title right. The song by The Who, “Reign O’er Me,” figures in the story, but presumably sounded too poetic for a marquee. So the title ends up being just as obscure as the rest of the movie.

Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler star in “Reign Over Me.”

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