What a wasted opportunity this movie represents. Its central subject -- the trauma of a 9/11 survivor who loses his wife and daughters in one of the infamous World Trade Center plane crashes -- is a potential gold mine. The producers also made a potentially rewarding decision via the unusual choice to tap gifted Adam Sandler for the central portrayal of widower Charlie Fineman and the magnificent Don Cheadle as Sandler's long-estranged best friend, Alan. Some combinations seem foolproof. However, writer-director Mike Binder -- whose very best work feels as grossly uneven as this -- finds a way to royally muck it up, as his script never enables the audience to truly and deeply empathize with Fineman. The filmmaker obviously wanted to avoid the heavy-handed pathos risked via onscreen depictions of Charlie's initial September 11th crisis -- depictions that could have turned the film into a real heartbreaker and begged sympathy. Instead, he travels to the opposite extreme, with a character so cryptic, so remote, so removed from any audience empathy, that it obliterates the tone of the film, and halfway through we suddenly realize that we couldn't care less about Charlie -- an unusual but absolutely unforgivable flaw for a film about a 9/11 victim. Moreover, if the picture's first hour at least qualifies as watchable, the film suddenly loses its narrative momentum about halfway through and turns into a real clunker, sinking into a such a mire of depression that it feels unbearable; it runs about 45 minutes too long. Binder's decision to fork off the narrative into an awful subplot about the Fineman character's institutionalization during the last hour (and the director/scripter's questionable resolution -- romantically pairing the Charlie character up with a partner who has more issues than he does) suggests that Binder may have felt ill-equipped to further explore the gradations of Charlie's friendship with Alan, and instead opted to introduce some narrative distractions. The producers enlisted a magnificent supporting cast -- including Liv Tyler, Melinda Dillon, Donald Sutherland, and Robert Klein -- all of whom feel underused. Binder and co. netted some enthusiastic reviews, perhaps because some critics felt afraid to speak negatively about a 9/11-themed film. Do not be fooled by the scattered praises -- this one's a stinker.
by Nathan Southern review