Sandler Aims To Heal — And ‘Reign’ In Laughs — With Post-9/11 Flick

Male-bonding dramedy, opening Friday, shows 'that people are still in pain,' actor says.

BEVERLY HILS, California — Many consider Adam Sandler to be among the funniest men alive. In flicks like “Happy Gilmore,” “50 First Dates” and “Click,” he’s employed his own technique of eternal, carefree adolescence to leave audiences holding their bellies.

But he is a human being. And on September 11, 2001, even Adam Sandler got serious.

“I was out in California; my brother woke me up,” he recently recalled, his typically animated eyes glancing downward in remembrance. “The phone rang and my brother said, ‘Turn on the news, man.’ That’s when I found out. My parents were visiting and my wife was actually in school at the time. I called her up and told her to come home. Yeah, that was a day that everybody remembers, of course.”

Now, the man who built a career making people laugh is intent on helping them heal. His vehicle is “Reign Over Me,” a uniquely constructed film that balances the beauty of living with the terrors of modern-day existence.

(See Adam Sandler talk about the role music plays in “Reign Over Me” — and why he doesn’t want Eminem poking around his iPod.)

In the unorthodox movie that can best be described as a male-bonding romantic comedy, Sandler plays a despondent man searching for meaning in a world after his wife and children died on the second plane to hit the World Trade Center. When a former college roommate, played by Oscar-nominee Don Cheadle, and his wife, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, learn about his situation, they team up with a psychiatrist (Liv Tyler) to do what so many real-life New Yorkers have: Help a fellow human being carry on.

(See snaps of Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and more at the “Reign Over Me” premiere. )

“I was in Los Angeles, and my husband was up early because he was about to play golf,” Pinkett Smith remembered of how she and Will learned of the terrorist attacks. “He got a phone call and he woke me up, out of my sleep, and brought me to the television in the living room.”

“I was at home at my apartment in New York City on Ninth Street,” remembered Tyler, who was only a short distance away. “I woke up, and I heard horrible noises of people reacting to something, and I got out of bed … I saw these people standing on their roof seeing something, but I couldn’t see what they were seeing. I thought, ‘Oh God, maybe somebody is jumping off a building.’ I waited for a little while, and I thought maybe if I put the news on maybe I’d would see something — that’s when [the second plane crash] happened.”

“I was actually home [in California]; I had just left on the 8th,” Cheadle revealed. “I had flown in from New York, and I had just had a discussion with [a] director about coming back and doing [a play] on Broadway. Then we saw that happening. I woke up, I looked at my kids, and I looked at my family and I said, ‘I’m not going back to New York right now.’ ”

While films like “World Trade Center” and “United 93″ recently chronicled the events of that fateful morning, “Reign” is the first movie to fully explore the healing process.

“That’s why this [film] was made,” explained Sandler, whose ironically named Charlie Fineman regresses to the point where he rarely goes outdoors, is addicted to escapist video games and claims to have forgotten everything about his deceased loved ones. “Basically, ['Reign'] is showing everyone that people are still in pain. Everyone knows that, but it’s a good reminder. There were people who were affected by this, and it’s years later, and they are people who are still affected by this.”

But here’s the twist: “Reign Over Me” is actually, at times, a very funny movie. As Charlie and his old college roommate Alan (Cheadle) reunite, they buzz around town on a motor scooter, question each other’s masculinity and develop a shared love for Chinese food. In the eyes of writer/director Mike Binder (“The Upside of Anger”), it’s this mix of the comedic and the poignant, the monumental and the mundane, that makes life worth living.

“I kind of lost track of the comedy,” Sandler said of the Binder script that he fell in love with post-9/11. “There were funny scenes. I know Cheadle is funny as hell, but I didn’t know that the scenes we had together would get so many laughs. I just looked at it as a heavy drama.”

“He would never really tell you how hard he worked, because he is so humble,” Tyler said of Sandler, whose performance may be the first to appropriately balance his dramatic and humorous strengths. “I was completely floored by what a complete actor he is.

“I [hope his performance] makes people feel a little bit more,” Tyler continued somberly. “And maybe be a little more compassionate to the people around them. I think that would be a good thing.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Reign Over Me.”

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