Audiences don't like Adam Sandler when he's serious. It's the sad fate of a man whose box office triumphs have all been idiotic comedies (Happy Gilmore is one of my favorites, don't get me wrong) and almost all of his flops have been some surprisingly good dramas. Remember Punch Drunk Love? People were talking Oscar for the guy, but no one went to go see that weird flick. Spanglish? Great movie, but most people don't even know that picture exists. And now there's Reign Over Me, another box office disappointment.
Unfortunately for Sandler, Reign Over Me is another quality drama that offers a very good performance from the funny man, and it's a real shame no one decided to go see this movie. It has all the makings of a hit: two good performances, a tragedy-to-triumph story and Don Cheadle. Cheadle makes anything worth watching, right?
Reign Over Me is about a dentist (Cheadle) who runs across his old college roommate (Sandler), who has hit hard times ever since his family and pet dog were killed in a certain New York plane disaster. The man has slipped into a deep depression and all but blocked out memories of his past, repressing his rage and emotions by putting on a pair of headphones so he can tune out the world. The two form an awkward new friendship as Sandler introduces Cheadle to a lifestyle of an almost childish nature, and Cheadle slowly tries to get his friend to step out of his comfort zone and face his issues.
The movie isn't an Oscar-winner by any means, but works thanks to the support of its stars. While this isn't Cheadle's most challenging role, he does a good job as a conflicted man torn between a friend who needs his help and a wife who just wants him by her side. Sandler's performance is much more remarkable. It's not that his performance is Oscar worthy either, but it is definitely his best performance to date and one that can be referenced anytime someone says he's only good at comedy. Sandler does a terrific job at establishing a character whom the audience (in this case, me!) so wants to get better. His character is a walking tragedy if I've ever seen one.
The story moves at a consistently good pace, thought it gets caught up in a few awkward storylines that seem to exist simply to give Cheadle's character more conflict. A side story about a woman who wants to give Cheadle a blow job and when refused accuses him of sexual harassment seems to be nothing more than filler, even though that character comes into play near the end in a rather weird, convenient way. It appears that writer/director Mike Bender wasn't confident that the story revolving around Sandler was strong enough, so he stuck in a few random plots to make the movie more enjoyable. These stories work on an entertainment level, but don't do anything to enhance the dramatic power of the movie overall.
Reign Over Me is a good picture and one of the better films of the year, but isn't good enough to make any top ten lists. Still, Cheadle and especially Sandler deliver top notch performances, which alone make it worth the while.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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