We knew it was coming. Hollywood was destined to push a cloying and manipulative human drama that plays on our post-September 11 angers and fears to earn sympathies it doesn't deserve. I just didn't expect Mike Binder
, writer and director of the beautiful Joan Allen vehicle The Upside of Anger, to be the culprit.
Binder's bogus new film Reign Over Me is a nauseatingly shameless disaster about a reclusive widower grieving for the family he lost in the terrorist attacks. An inert Adam Sandler
dons a disheveled Bob Dylan wig to play Charlie Fineman (Get it? He's not fine, man), a former Manhattan dentist whose wife and three daughters were on one of the planes that left Boston bound for Los Angeles. Because New York City is only five blocks wide (at least, in Binder's limited view), Charlie eventually crosses paths with his college roommate Alan (Don Cheadle
) and the pretentiously somber movie tries to connect these lonely souls. Article continues below
The movie's focus is everywhere, mainly because Charlie's salvation story isn't interesting enough for a full-length feature. We've all lost loved ones. Some have perished in tragic accidents. Charlie's reaction is neither common nor realistic.
As for Alan, he's stuck in a rut carved out by his harmless wife (Jada Pinkett Smith
, biding her time in a useless role). He must contend with a sexual abuse case brought against him by a beautiful patient (Saffron Burrows
), though that conflict resolves itself with no real fuss.
Other characters are brought into the fold, though the imbalanced film isn't sure how important they are to the proceedings. Liv Tyler
comes and goes as a psychiatrist helping both Alan and Charlie. Robert Klein
and Melinda Dillon
play Charlie's grieving in-laws who insist they want to be a part of the man's life. Binder just never explains why.
Sandler is the wrong choice for Charlie. Not known for his dramatic range, he conveys deep sorrow by mimicking Dustin Hoffman
circa Rain Man. Sandler stares longingly at nothing in particular, rocks back and forth when sitting in place, tells people with staggering repetition that he used to sleep in the nude, and melts down when strangers try to touch him.
Binder does him no favors. His idea of emotionally disconnected is more in line with autism or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Charlie collects vinyl records because they smell like the '70s. He randomly tests strangers with trivia questions (that annoying practice fades away as the movie progresses, and is never addressed).
Cheadle almost holds the whole thing together as he tries to bring his friend back from the brink. The truth of the matter, though, is that without its unmistakable 9/11 subtext, Reign would be another calculated and artificial tearjerker prepackaged for Hallmark or Lifetime -- two channels I usually avoid. This is about as artificial as it gets.