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A Terrible Thing to Waste

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Binder, to his credit, isn’t glib. He doesn’t overrate Freudian catharsis; for Charlie, facing his pain would be only the beginning of a journey ending God-knows-where. But I still found Binder’s psychotherapeutic, well-made-play universe inadequate for exploring a loss so monumentally horrible. And I’m not sure the movie can bear the sociological weight of 9/11. (Is Charlie supposed to be a stand-in for all of us?) The pall overwhelms the film’s lighter subplot, in which Alan confronts the traumas in his life: the tension with his wife (Jada Pinkett Smith) over late nights with Charlie and the screwy ardor of a patient (Saffron Burrows) who tries to seduce him and then charges him with making inappropriate overtures. (Charlie has a funny line about his friend’s stalker: “She’s crazy with a side of crazy.”) Charlie and Alan are supposed to help each other recover their old selves—and the mix of tragedy and deadpan comedy and buddy-buddy uplift is … icky.

Cheadle is a blessedly centered actor, and Sandler is up to his inevitable let-it-all-out Big Scenes. (The timing might be a tad unfortunate for the one in which he points a gun at two NYPD cops, who carefully disarm him instead of shooting him 41 times.) But the film is slick when it needs to be raw, tidy when it needs to sprawl, and amorphous when it needs to focus. The terrible title comes from the Who’s “Love, Reign o’er Me,” and I can imagine Binder vowing to make a movie that builds to the same kind of primal rock-and-roll wail for connection. But his instruments don’t play in tune. And you can’t do primal wails with a kazoo.

Lefty peaceniks who object to the red-meat vigilante action genre on moral and political grounds but down deep wonder if they’d enjoy watching evil right-wing war criminals get their heads blown off should check out Shooter, which is based on a novel by Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter about a sniper named “Swagger” who’s set up by genocidal mercenaries (led by human-rights activist Danny Glover at his Snidely Whiplash best) to take the fall for a political assassination, then decides he doesn’t need subpoena power to do a little government housecleaning. As Swagger, Mark Wahlberg explains his cynical view of American democracy to a sympathetic FBI agent (Michael Peña): “Gharfrasrt isgotrs isgoivt hjnbfkjstusg trobhforgalit”—which I know will be a powerful statement when I get the DVD and read the closed captions. The best parts are when Swagger and his various spotters trade longitudes, latitudes, rotational-earth vectors, and wind speeds, and then Swagger squeezes the trigger and the top of a bad guy’s head goes “Cush!” On a more sobering note, this is the first big-studio action picture (the director is Antoine Fuqua) with some of the disgusted, bloody nihilism of the post-Vietnam era.

The Lookout
Directed by Scott Frank.Miramax. R.

Reign Over Me
Directed by Mike Binder. Sony Pictures. R.

Shooter
Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Paramount. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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