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Helping each other: (l-r) Cheadle and Sandler in Reign Over Me.

Buddy Buddy

By Laura Leon

Reign Over Me

Directed by Mike Binder

Generally speaking, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a movie that catalogs the friendship between men. What passes for male bonding these days is likely to come in the form of the action cop/buddy film, in which a crusty, by-the-books veteran reluctantly teams up with a hotrod, rule-breaking pup, only to come to the inevitable conclusion that they like each other. They really like each other.

So it’s refreshing to see that the relationship at the center of Mike Binder’s Reign Over Me is that of two guys, former dental-school roommates Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) and Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler). Alan is part of a successful practice specializing in cosmetic dentistry, and while he talks a lot about having been the driving force behind the practice, he acts more like a timid outsider when dealing with his partners. He lives in a pristine New York apartment, has an equally pristine wife, Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith), and two daughters. He dutifully cares for his aged parents; he groans inwardly when Janeane informs him what she’s planned for their free time. In short, he’s struggling mightily for a little breathing room.

When Alan unexpectedly encounters Charlie, looking like a demented Bob Dylan, he lunges at the opportunity to reconnect. This, despite the fact that Charlie has retreated into a shell since his wife, daughters and poodle were killed onboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Others might want to run at the sight of such raw hurt, but Alan rushes in, confident that he can help restore Charlie to life. And so, these two disparate individuals end up spending lots of time together playing video games, jamming in Charlie’s soundproof music room, watching Mel Brooks movies and noshing on Chinese food. When Alan feebly protests that he has to go to work in the morning, Charlie ignores him, and when Janeane calls her husband on his errant behavior, he tries to explain the difficulty of escaping “Charlie time.”

As with any movie in which one of the main characters has serious emotional issues, the ultimate question is whether Alan and others, notably his psychiatrist (Liv Tyler), should attempt to “fix” him: Is being in a somewhat childlike state somehow better than, say, returning to the practice of dentistry? (Good question.) Is Alan really trying to help Charlie, or is he trying to fix something in his own life? Binder has a real knack, reminiscent of early Barry Levinson, for catching the cadences and revealing subtexts of people’s arguments and off-the-cuff discussions. Indeed, despite the fact that Sandler seems to be channeling in equal parts his Punch-Love Drunk character and Rain Man, his interactions with Cheadle prove surprisingly effective. And that’s due solely to the fact that Cheadle is such an intuitive and generous performer. For all of Sandler’s showboating, the movie is really about Alan, and Cheadle lets us see inside the man to a person plagued with a sense of lost opportunities.

Surprisingly, for the director who, in The Upside of Anger, showed such a flair for getting right the female dynamic, the women in Reign Over Me are a sorry lot. Janeane is a brittle perfectionist, always displeased and shown either primping at a mirror or fastidiously seeing to some domestic nicety. The psychiatrist has all the depth and range of the young Liz Taylor in Lassie, Come Home, but that’s appropriate since Binder really only wants her to epitomize wholesomeness and acceptance. This is a professional who shows her expertise by raising her limpid blue eyes and looking ever-so-earnest. The movie’s weakest link is yet another woman, Donna (Saffron Burrows), a sad-eyed beauty who goes from trying to seduce Dr. Johnson in his own office to suing him for sexual assault. It’s like the filmmakers have their own real-life Barbie, a pliable toy to insert into any variety of situations and emotions. At least Barbie has her own jet, car and penthouse apartment.

Only Blanks


Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Peering down from a hill in a “peace-keeping zone” in Africa, two camouflaged Special Forces sharpshooters make small talk while taking professionally calibrated aim at their targets. However, the routine mission, whatever it is, goes violently wrong. The American force pulls out, one of the snipers is killed, and the other, Bobby Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg), is left behind. As he was trained to do, Bobbie secretly escapes from hostile terrain. Disillusioned by the incident, he retires from the military and returns to his native Tennessee, where crack riflemen are a dime a dozen. “Tennessee is the patron state of shooting stuff up,” he jokes to an accomplice.

Yes, accomplice. Like The Fugitive, Three Days of the Condor, or innumerable other frame-up movies, Shooter is about a conspiracy to implicate an honest, dutiful son of the US of A in a heinous crime. Directed by Antoine Fuqua (and adapted from the novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter), Shooter continues Fuqua’s string of machismo-under-pressure movies, following solidly in the wake of Training Day, Tears of the Sun, and King Arthur. The convoluted plot follows Bobby, a stereotypical Rugged Individualist, as he is set up to take the blame for an assassination attempt on the American president. When Col. Johnson (Danny Glover, in a slickly effective role reversal from the Lethal Weapon series) tracks him to his mountain cabin, Bobby is suspicious of the colonel’s offer: He asks Bobby to help prevent just such an attempt by advising the FBI on how a sniper might be able to circumvent the Secret Service.

The conspiracy requires close attention to keep up with, and isn’t particularly rewarding or original. However, Shooter illustrates its point of impact—that “things happen without the approval of the government,” as one character puts it—with enough bells and whistles to make the game interesting. The military techno-speak on shooting and sniping is nicely contrasted with the homegrown skills of the folks back home in Tennessee. Bobbie finds an unlikely sympathizer in the rookie FBI agent (appealing Michael Peña) who is accidentally involved in the assassination attempt, and has a seductive close call with the sexy widow (Kate Mara) of his dead comrade. And our resourceful hero makes Rambo look like a boy scout when it comes to killing adversaries and making do with household items whilst being nigh-on fatally wounded. Yet for all its skilled bravura, Shooter doesn’t quite hit the spot.

—Ann Morrow

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