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Originally published March 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 23, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Movie review

"Reign Over Me" | The tragic side of ... Adam Sandler

Sadly, nostalgia is also a lazy shortcut to the film's emotional center, resulting in flabby, even bathetic, drama with dubious ethics.

Special to The Seattle Times

The world will be a much better place once Adam Sandler runs out of stuff to feel nostalgic about.

While the 1980s setting and theme in "The Wedding Singer" was a lot of fun, Sandler's penchant for throwing cultural flotsam from his youth into movies as a self-indulgent reference point has included some hideous moments. Among these: the celebration of treacly rock band Styx in "Big Daddy" and the drudgery of the Cranberries' "Linger" during a romantic moment in "Click."

"Reign Over Me," at least, is about nostalgia as the ultimate escapist phenomenon for someone in deep psychological pain. Sadly, nostalgia is also a lazy shortcut to the film's emotional center, resulting in flabby, even bathetic, drama with dubious ethics.

The film's pop totems this time are the Who's "Quadrophenia" (1973) and Bruce Springsteen's "The River" (1980), both ambitious double albums — for those who remember such a thing — that figure into the story and infiltrate "Reign Over Me's" soundtrack, often embarrassingly. (The Boss' "Drive All Night" is given especially obvious placement.)

Movie review 1.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"Reign Over Me," with Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Saffron Burrows, Jada Pinkett Smith, Liv Tyler, Mike Binder. Written and directed by Binder.

124 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual references. Several theaters.

Still, the nostalgia card makes nominal sense in the story's context. Sandler — who essays a rare dramatic role, albeit to dubious effect — plays Charlie Fineman, a dentist who lost his wife and children, along with his mind, during the Sept. 11 tragedy.

A collector of vinyl records, an aficionado of Mel Brooks' early movies, a hobbyist drummer in a punk band, Charlie lives for an earlier era in his existence, i.e., his college days, long before the horror.

When he's spotted one day on the street by an old friend, fellow dentist Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle), Charlie's delusion is suddenly complete: Now he has a buddy from that more innocent time with whom he can hang out all night and relive half-forgotten old times.

Charlie is not the typical gruff-but-lovable Sandler character, but rather a volatile personality who wrecks Alan's office at one point and publicly threatens a therapist that Alan hires to pose as his friend (in order to draw Charlie out). The original script by writer-director Mike Binder (who also plays the part of Charlie's caretaker) invents an awkward intersection between Charlie's freewheeling danger and buttoned-down Alan's lack of vitality.

Alan wants stability for Charlie, but Charlie wants Alan to loosen up. That's a recipe for a French buddy picture, but this is surely not that. In fact, Binder simply makes one wonder what he could possibly have been thinking when he decided to use Sept. 11 as a disposable plot element (the tragedy could just as easily have been a house fire), or cast Saffron Burrows as a sexual stalker who becomes a supporter of Charlie's healing process.

There's something creepy about peddling such ideas without thinking through their moral or intellectual downside.

Tom Keogh:

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