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March 21-27, 2007

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'Reign Over Me'

Photograph by Tracy Bennett
That's my vinyl offer: Don Cheadle goes album shopping with Dylan-channeling Adam Sandler in 'Reign Over Me.'

Guyville

Post-9/11, Adam Sandler uses male bonding to heal in 'Reign Over Me'

By Richard von Busack


SHORTLY AFTER Sept. 11, Adam Sandler appeared at the 2002 Concert for New York City and sang a song about Osama having sex with a goat. Whatever else I thought about Sandler, I thought this was a bit of all right. The low-down insult befit the backwardness of bin Laden's iron dream. Sandler's razzing was unimprovable, as Spike Jones' "Der Fuhrer's Face" was as a message to Hitler. Reign Over Me is Sandler's more emotionally complex response to Sept. 11, and I preferred the goat song. Take the mitigations: the genuine and subtle (re)acting by Don Cheadle and a musky and unaffected performance by Saffron Burrows as a cracked, yearning woman. Even so, Reign Over Me is the kind of mawkish wallow that will hit many male viewers right between the eyes. The film is based on real tragedy, but it provides a man's version of a woman's picture.

In the first few scenes, Cheadle gives us a strangling man: Alan, a polite Manhattan dentist who is the support of his extended family. His wife—the glacial Jada Pinkett Smith—bosses him around. At work, a patient named Donna (Burrows) propositions him; when he rejects her, Donna turns vindictive, threatening a lawsuit. And a shrink with whom he shares the building (Liv Tyler) is civil but remote. One day, Alan sees someone he remembers: his old dental-school roommate, Charlie (Sandler), who is scooting around the streets on a gas-powered skateboard. When Alan flags him down, Charlie seems amnesiac; he hasn't processed the tragedy of Sept. 11 in which Charlie took some very heavy personal losses. The two men become buddies. Charlie lives for rock music; Sandler is even made up to look like Bob Dylan, a furtive, whiskery mutterer. Charlie is independently wealthy from the insurance money. Reverting to the carefree life they once had at school, Alan and Charlie become friends. Any mention of what Charlie went through, however, brings out furniture-throwing, nigh-autistic rage.

Director/writer Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger) wields a lethal set of pinchers: our rage at 9/11 is one prong, and our nostalgia for the finale of the Who's "Quadrophenia" is the other. The anthem "Love Reign O'er Me" makes its appearance, a song full of what writer Ian Frazier has described as "emotions that seem to be a mile wide but turn out to be an inch deep." Alan is the sidekick, but his crisis seems real, and that's because Cheadle is not a self-involved performer like Sandler. So Alan gets hit with put-downs—"Faggot" is one of them, in case we think these two men are too sweet on each other. Even the death of Alan's father goes on the movie's back burner compared to Charlie's continuing 24-hour crisis care. But underneath the fetishized love of family, Reign Over Me is a movie in which every family is a drag; "Shoot it right in the uterus," says Charlie, as Alan takes aim at a PlayStation pterodactyl. Ultimately, women can have their place at the back of the two-man boy's club as long as long as they bring pizza and don't make any noise. Apparently, our only path to true emotional safety is a giant leap backward.


Movie Times Reign Over Me (R; 124 min.), directed and written by Mike Binder, photographed by Russ T. Alsobrook and starring Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle, opens March 23.


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