Something unusual happens watching Reign Over Me, the new post-9/11 drama from writer-director Mike Binder (The Upside of Anger); the longer you have to actually think about it, the more diminished it becomes in your view. There's no denying that Reign Over Me is well-intentioned and well-acted, thanks to lead performances from Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle; at the same time, Reign Over Me feels a little off, with more than a few holes in it that become apparent viewed from a distance.
New York Dentist Alan Johnson (Cheadle) has it all -- great wife, great family, successful career. Having it all is, in fact, driving him a little nuts; where's the room for him to be him? One night, by chance, he sees his old college roommate Charlie Fineman (Sandler) on the street; Alan and Charlie fell out of touch a bit after school, and Charlie's been off the map completely since his wife and three children were killed on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Charlie is a mess -- tic-ridden, hunched into his headphones, blotchy and haggard -- but after a few more chance meetings, he and Alan do connect, over video games, all-night jam sessions, Mel Brooks movie marathons. Alan's retreating to juvenilia because adult life is crushing him; Charlie is mired in it because it's all he has left.
Much as P.T. Anderson did in Punch-Drunk Love, Binder takes Sandler's two most prominent comedic assets -- mumble-mouthed child-like meanderings and unglued, irrational rage -- and turns them into dramatic ones. Cheadle is, as ever, rock-solid; Alan's not irresponsible, and he's not a bad husband, but he thinks he could use a break, and Cheadle gets to not only deliver a few sterling laugh lines but also do some subtler, more affecting acting.