Once upon a time, audiences knew what they were getting with an Adam Sandler movie. Films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and Little Nicky made his fans roll in the aisles but left most people with any semblance of intelligence far from amused. Nowadays, however, it seems Mr Sandler is a little more conflicted. The list of recent offerings includes such predictable fare as 50 First Dates, but also Punch-Drunk Love, Click (which had a bit of both Sandlers in it), and now Reign Over Me. That isn’t to say that the new Adam Sandler isn’t an improvement, far from it. In fact, his mid-career selection of roles show at least someone in Team Sandler hopes for something more than his puerile past. Click misfired, Punch-Drunk Love, although nearly universally acclaimed, left me cold, and now sadly Reign Over Me also misses its aim.
Playing a man with so many barriers up that he essentially lives a solitary life in the heart of the city that never sleeps, Sandler is reasonably effective in a role significantly more demanding than most of his other work. His Charlie Fineman is colourless for much of the film, but on the occasion that he does finally let his emotions show, Sandler does a better than adequate job of the performance. He is, however, hampered by yet another script that shows an adult playing video games as shorthand for being dysfunctional. Relatively subdued alongside him is Don Cheadle, so brilliant in Hotel Rwanda, as Alan Johnson, Fineman’s old college roommate. A chance meeting leads to an awakening of sorts for Johnson and eventually a form of conclusion for Fineman.
The performances of the leads are decent, but the real flaw that lets the whole production down is the abysmal plotting of their resolutions. The last hour of Reign Over Me is filled with unlikely occurrences and an especially bizarre courtroom scene that needs to be seen to be believed. (Donald Sutherland must be desperate for work to have accepted this role.) The gradually building relationship between the two men is overwhelmed by the strange choices made by writer/director Mike Binder, and the tension of wondering how their friendship will affect them both is wasted.
It is not only their outcomes that are unlikely, but the subplots involving Liv Tyler and particularly Saffron Burrows are uninspired and at times frankly silly. Burrows suffers the most, with the task of playing the ‘crazy lady’ with no real motivation or explanation. Pinkett Smith plays catcher to Johnson’s ‘do I really want this life’ pitch, and never shows anything to suggest what his interest in her could ever have been.
There is some restraint shown by not making a big deal of the 9/11 angle – and this at least works for the film. The tragedy that produced Fineman’s current state is mentioned only sparingly, and is never milked for ‘cheap’ drama or emotional connection. This is one case in which the decision made by Binder is sound.
Despite being led by two competent performances, Reign Over Me fails due to poor plot decisions and silly subplotting. That it could have been far more satisfying is a great waste.Rating: