Review: 'Reign Over Me' provides sweet sorrow 

Both a buddy comedy and a slice of five-years-later post-trauma, "Reign Over Me" isn’t profound enough to succeed as a study of grief as its wreck of a protagonist, a 9/11 widower, embodies various facets of aftershock and denial. Nor does it pack much purport beneath the sometimes sad and sometimes goofy plot threads keeping its surfaces busy. But as an off-kilter look at friendship amid emotional ruin, it is strangely, sweetly winning.

Having explored the augmentative powers of rage in "The Upside of Anger," writer-director Mike Binder now presents the downside. His subject: Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), a once-thriving dentist who’s been a diminished, shuttered version of himself ever since his family died in one of the jets that smashed into the Twin Towers. Friendless and childlike, Charlie speeds around Manhattan on a motor scooter and blocks out reality with giant headphones that blare 1970s and ’80s rock into his brain. He ceaselessly remodels his kitchen. He explodes whenever someone mentions his loss.

The story centers on the renewed friendship, following a chance encounter, of Charlie and his college-days roommate Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), a successful but dissatisfied dentist and family man (Jada Pinkett Smith plays his wife). The relationship’s mutually beneficial. Charlie gets a pal. Alan, sick of "putting phony things on phony people" (cosmetic dentistry), gets the chance to help a truly damaged soul and experience the freedom that Charlie enjoys.

The film misfires often. Passages featuring a patient (Saffron Burrows) who propositions Alan, and a courtroom sequence, sink. And the casting of Sandler fares so-so. As in "Punch-Drunk Love," Sandler portrays pent-up anger effectively, and once you get past scruffy Charlie’s facial resemblance to Bob Dylan, you’ll find an earnest presence who holds the screen alongside the always-solid Cheadle.

But dramatically, Sandler’s not penetrating enough to make Charlie’s pain gripping. This movie needs a heartbreaker protagonist and some wallop; what we get are two appealingly aching souls in a serio-enjoyable romp.

As such, though, it’s got charm and credibility.

Binder’s darker material, set in an enduring haze where people like Charlie are referred to as the man whose "family was on the plane," captures, without being a downer, the continuing impact of the trauma. The buddy adventures (including a Mel Brooks marathon) and the men’s connective spark earn your smile.

Liv Tyler as a shrink and Donald Sutherland as a judge merit mention among the supporting cast.

Reign Over Me **½

Starring Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler

Written and directed by Mike Binder

Rated R

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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