Reign Over Me is like spending two hours with a shrink.
Self-absorbed and repetitive, it has an occasional moment of truth, and a lot of hot air.
Actors Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler provide the occasional moments of truth and writer-director Mike Binder provides the hot air. It's an oppressive blend.
Reign Over Me is the story of two former college roommates who come across each other in Manhattan many years after college. One is unhappy; the other is traumatized -- so they both need renewed friendship and what it might bring to their lives.
Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) is a dentist with a very successful practice in New York. He has a wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and two daughters, but his relationship with his wife unsettles him.
She dominates him and has him doing things with her he doesn't enjoy, such as taking photography classes and doing picture puzzles. But he goes along and pretends he likes the hobbies. He has no male friends. His life is stuck in neutral.
One day Alan sees his former college buddy Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) walking on the street but can't reach him. Later he again sees Charlie -- this time on a scooter -- and he gets his attention. Charlie says he doesn't remember Alan; he seems not to remember anything from his past. Alan insists they have coffee together, and their relationship begins to become rekindled.
Charlie is a mess. He is a refugee from horrible pain. Alan has read in the newspaper that Charlie's family -- his wife, three daughters, and their poodle (Binder can't help himself) -- were killed in a plane crash on 9/11.
Charlie completely avoids talking about his family and goes into a rage whenever anything starts to remind him of them. He lives in a self-imposed cocoon, only letting his landlady and business manager (played by Binder) have anything to do with him. He has no friends.
Alan and Charlie begin to count on each other for support, and their odd couple relationship evolves.
Writer-director Binder created HBO's The Mind of the Married Man, and too often he goes the way of the easy gimmick or the forced resolution. Binder is not enough of a realist. He tries to handle heavy themes, and he keeps floundering awkwardly under their weight. He loves to rig and contrive too much.
In Reign Over Me, people meet coincidentally all the time. There are also plot contrivances. The landlady enters Charlie's apartment at a key moment saying a neighbor complained about a loud TV, despite the fact that it has played all through the movie.
Charlie even has played drums to loud music to no complaint. That is until we need a concocted reason for the landlady to appear. And, never have the streets of New York been so empty.
In a patented, terribly contrived courtroom hearing, the judge (Donald Sutherland) allows misconduct and then later vehemently opposes it. No, his name isn't Gonzales.
And, of course, cheap sentimentality wins out. Nasty people suddenly become sweethearts.
Reign Over Me is teeming with lapses of credibility.
The cast struggles mightily to overcome the lapses, with erratic results. Back at the dentist's office a ditzy woman (Saffron Burrows) has a thing for Alan Johnson's johnson. She wanders aimlessly throughout the movie trying to decide whether to smile or become a serial killer.
At home, Jada Pinkett Smith spends most of the time waiting for her role to make sense or at least to give her something more to do than holding a cell phone to her ear.
Don Cheadle flip-flops his way through a disconcerting part, but at least he is a genuine actor, even when the part is disingenuous.
Adam Sandler -- that clown with a heart that mumbles -- plays Charlie Fineman as a mixture of Bob Dylan and Bozo.
Liv Tyler looks uncomfortable playing a psychiatrist.
You know that any movie that dredges up Robert Klein (he plays Charlie's father-in-law) is in deep trouble.
Donald Sutherland, as the judge, tries to bring dignity to a role that doesn't deserve it.
Binder is the kind of director that attracts good actors like Kevin Costner and Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger, and then wastes them. Binder's major trait is that he has a sit com's sense of life.
Reign Over Me seems as though it is a collection of sit com characters who have been trapped in a serious movie and are trying to get out.
They don't make it.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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