A review of “Reign Over Me” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and sexual references

Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes

 

 

          Multi-talented actor/writer/director Mike Binder (“The Upside of Anger”) takes another stab at contemporary drama by focusing on the emotional fallout of 9/11.

          “Reign” narrows its focus to two central characters in the grip of life’s flux. Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) is a successful dentist and family man who isn’t feeling the satisfaction he thinks he should. In a quirky Manhattan moment he spies long-ago roommate Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler) zipping around the city on a motorized scooter looking disheveled and forlorn.

          The situation is far worse than it appears. Charlie, a thriving oral MD in his own right, had the rug pulled out from under him when his wife and three young daughters went down on a targeted 9/11 aircraft bound for L.A.

          Unable to cope with the magnitude of his loss Charlie has shut down and lives in a peculiar fugue state (“crazy with a side of crazy”), haunting late-nite Chinese diners, frenetically banging drums at an alt-punk club and incessantly remodeling his kitchen.

          Stunned at the turn of events Alan resolves to help his old friend regain his balance, in the process secretly coveting Charlie’s freedom and pulling away from his own professional and familial burdens.

          Binder is one of those rare writer/directors who stands in the eye of the storm; he understands human frailty and can shrewdly alter a mood with a simple word or glance. “Reign” is blessed with such subtly, particularly in the profound performances of Cheadle and Sandler, the latter of whom is more dramatically gifted than his Happy Gilmore public persona allows. “Punch-Drunk Love” anyone?

          The unlikely alliance at the center of it all is dark, edgy and saturated with history and sentiment. As is the poignant concept of 9/11’s post-traumatic stress cases.

          Sadly too many cooks spoil the broth. A buffet of peripheral players (including Liv Tyler as a too-sensitive shrink and Saffron Burrows as a twisted obsessive) plus a manufactured romance hint at narrative frivolity. But Binder’s smart touch is evident in every frame, rendering “Reign” appointment cinema.