It’s exciting to watch Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler together in Mike Binder’s “Reign Over Me.” On the surface it seems like an impossible match.
Almost immediately you feel a blanket of sadness and anger from them, and it feels real and you can see it.
Cheadle plays Alan Johnson, a dentist whose clinic provides 40-year-old upper-crust New Yorkers with teeth like 20-year-olds. At home, his wife (played by Jada Pinkett Smith), teeming with enthusiasm, says, “Ooh, let’s finish that puzzle,” which is a zillion-piece picture of the U.S. Capitol. Johnson’s eyes say, “Is this really happening?”
Later, outside, stuck in traffic, Johnson sees his old college roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) on an electric scooter. Fineman refuses to acknowledge him, and Johnson refuses to go home.
Fineman is a non-practicing dentist. Six years ago his wife and three daughters and the family dog were on one of the flights that struck the World Trade Center.
Today he rides his scooter with giant ear phones on, collects rock albums, plays video games on a giant TV, plays drums and has as little to do with any other humans as possible.
Both Johnson and Fineman are lost and, more importantly, they have lost themselves. It’s a non-buddy buddy movie.
Had the movie stayed there (it does to some extent), it would have been two hours and satisfying. Now it’s two and a half and not. Can’t a director of a Hollywood movie trust us enough with sadness and know we can identify strongly about being lost?
The movie is playing with issues of race and class and asking us whether a non-practicing N.Y. Jewish dentist has the right to impose himself on a wholesome Black family showing signs of success and virtue. On the other hand, the movie asks whether Dr. Johnson has the right to insert himself into the pain of someone who has lost his family based on 9/11.
When people are lost, do they have the right to have no boundaries so they may find themselves? This could have been the making of a good dark comedy.
By the time Donald Sutherland inserts himself as a judge, most of what we’re feeling is gone. It’s also hampered by a whole series of women who strut into the frame as little tangents, mostly for us to dislike or at least make us scratch our heads. Binder’s last film, “The Upside of Anger,” seems to be spilling over in the form of not very subtle hostility toward women.
Johnson’s wife is made to look dim and materialistic, signaling that the Black middle class has reached a stage where it can enjoy its own idle emptiness, à la the “Donna Reed Show.” There’s a beautiful woman whose main contribution is to offer Johnson oral sex, and a young shrink whose breasts become a talking point for Fineman. And Fineman’s mother-in-law wants him committed to a hospital, as though the hell he’s going through isn’t quite enough.
But maybe what’s most odd to see is Sandler character, who’s a dead ringer for Bob Dylan in his navy pea coat and scarf with that cold, windy New-York-City-Greenwich-Village look. The whole time we’re watching the movie, we’re thinking about Bob Dylan.
Cheadle’s got the comedy in his body, and we can see it here. Adam Sandler’s got some seriousness. It’s a match that works, but it’s wasted without any upsides to the anger.
Reign Over Me Directed by Mike Binder Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2007 124 minutes