- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

Adam Sandler’s performance in “Reign Over Me” is both as unexpectedly profound as the one he gave in 2002’s “Punch Drunk Love” and as warped as a two-bit “Rain Man” impersonation.

That duality mirrors writer-director Mike Binder’s film. The filmmaker (“The Upside of Anger”) continues to frustrate as much as he entertains.

“Reign” offers an unexpected bonding between a dentist (Don Cheadle) and his old college roommate (Mr. Sandler), who lost his wife and three daughters in the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Binder leavens the drama with laughs, most of the tasteful variety given the subject matter. But the writer-director just can’t help himself when it comes to one too many gags, and he once more fails to wrap up his loose ends in a convincing fashion.

The film all but crumbles in the final reel, a shame since there’s much to recommend it until that point.

Alan Johnson (Mr. Cheadle) has a thriving dental practice in the Big Apple and goes home each night to a loving wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) and their two daughters. A chance reunion with Charlie Fineman (Mr. Sandler), with whom Alan roomed during dental school, shakes up his routine.

Charlie no longer practices dentistry. In fact, all he does is zip around New York City on his motorized scooter, his shaggy hair and headphones blocking out the world.

He doesn’t speak about losing his family, ever. It’s too painful.

When Alan gingerly asks about his life before the attacks, Charlie becomes violent.

So the two play video games, catch a Mel Brooks marathon and stay out all night talking about trivial matters.

Typical guy stuff.

Meanwhile, Alan has his own growing problems. A comely patient (Saffron Burrows) is suing him after she failed to entice him into a sexual liaison, and his wife resents the toll Alan’s renewed relationship with Charlie is taking on their family.

Charlie’s issues run far deeper, but he won’t let anyone get close enough to him to start the healing.

We know where Charlie’s character arc is heading, and our fingers remain crossed as he heads toward an uncertain future, even if he’s prone to sputtering insults whenever the mood strikes.

But Mr. Binder can’t do much with Mr. Cheadle’s Alan, despite the actor’s hugely appealing presence. Mr. Sandler’s work here has its moments, but is too affected to get us to invest in his emotional upheaval.

The writer-director doesn’t do any favors for his deep cast, including Robert Klein, Melinda Dillon and Donald Sutherland. The latter’s turn as a imperious judge is painful, and Miss Burrows’ subplot travels from forced to inane.

With both “Reign” and “Anger,” Mr. Binder shows an affinity for naturalistic conversation and humor — to a point. Both films suffer from credulity-defying endings, but each delivers the kind of thoughtful sequences too often lacking in mainstream dramas.

**1/2

TITLE: “Reign Over Me”

RATING: R (Adult language, mature themes and some sexual references)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Mike Binder. Cinematography by Russ T. Alsobrook.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www. sonypictures.com/movies/ reignoverme/index.html

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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