Bright Lights, Motor City

With the region in economic straits, and that bastard Old Man Winter steadfastly refusing to release us from his icy grip, a little bit of glamour goes a long way around these parts. What was that line Joan Crawford uttered during the Depression about movie stars and escapism?

Whatever. Anyway, it's Sunday night in Birmingham, and the glitter stretches (literally) all the way around the block. Throngs of too-eager moviegoers snake past the marquee of the Uptown Palladium and around the corner, past a row of chic shops and chichi eateries.

What's the hubub?

Seems tinsel-town royalty, or its court jester, Adam Sandler, is here in the flesh. The star of frat-boy faves Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy is making a bid for a more mature future, starring alongside Don Cheadle in a real grown-up drama (with funny parts) called Reign Over Me.

What you should know is the flick is written and directed by Seaholm High School grad and former area stand-up hero Mike Binder, which explains tonight's red carpet treatment in his old hometown. This premiere has drawn not just the unwashed masses but a staggering conglomeration of assembled media goobs, who skitter out of the darkness looking for digestible nuggets of dismal stardust. They've come from outlets large, small and completely unheard of — from big radio stations to obscure Web sites and tiny student papers, clamoring for press passes and a better spot on the chorus line. Herded into a narrow strip between the doorway and the elevator, the jostling begins; mook reporters elbow positions, including several representatives of something called "The Flash," whatever the hell that is. (No word if Aquaman has his own gossip URL as well.)

Anticipation builds to a fever pitch as VIPs trickle into the room, film friends and family, pleasant old ladies and anonymous well-heeled local dandies.

Finally, the evening's first celeb trots past, and the crowd shudders. Mr. Sexy Specs is here. Yes, everyone's fave dancing optometrist Dr. Richard Golden, looking resplendent in orange-rimmed frames and clearly in his element rubbing elbows with the local glitterati. He's followed quietly by a strolling greybeard icon, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bob Seger. Numerous members of the chattering classes loudly note that it's no big deal; the Seeg's ubiquitous at Piston games. Still, buzz builds.

Then comes WRIF's frothy morning mouthpieces Drew and Mike, or at least the ball-capped Drew, his partner shambles behind him at a deliberate crawl as if lining up for scrod at the Beefcarver.

As tuned into the action as the crowd is, no one detects longtime Sandler pal Allen Covert (Grandma's Boy) sneak by. Indie auteur Paul Thomas Anderson — who, you'll recall, directed Sandler in his previous stab at respectability, Punch Drunk Love — is even stealthier.

The cramped press corps splits into two camps for breathing room, only to be crushed by an ocean of 700 or so autograph-seekers and looky-loos. Security fails and line integrity begins to collapse. The big stars finally emerge through the door. Pandemonium ensues at the sight of Mr. Sandler's conical dome. He's quickly lost in the glare of countless camera flashes, each reflecting off his glossy white New York Jets jacket. Throngs of crazed, gee-whiz-faced fans push forward, but the paparazzi army holds its ground like the mighty Spartans of 300.

The efforts of an overworked PR flack secure me a few moments with a beaming Mr. Binder. As expected, he's blown away by the hometown response.

When asked about the incongruity of two comedians doing a serious film, he says, "We both wanted to do a drama and to do something darker, and I knew Adam had the chops to pull it off." He adds that being a stand-up comedian has helped him as a director. OK. What else does he say? Oh, that Adam's funny bone rubbed off on his co-stars.

Including Liv Tyler?

"Not so much," Binder says. Then he adds, "but definitely on Cheadle."

With that he's swallowed again by chaos, and soon Sandler passes in a blur, with pens and microphones shoved toward his famous beak in this hopeless, maddening rush. Ah, well, just another crazy night in the land of celebrity sycophants, otherwise known as Oakland County.


Reign Over Me opens Friday at theaters everywhere. Look for the Jeff Meyers' review here next week.

Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]

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