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"28 DAYS"
(2000) (Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An alcoholic tries to cope with her condition and her new acquaintances when she's sent to a rehab center for twenty-eight days.
PLOT:
Gwen Cummings (SANDRA BULLOCK) and her boyfriend Jasper (DOMINIC WEST) are the hard partying types who obviously have addiction problems. Showing up drunk to be a bridesmaid at her sister Lily's (ELIZABETH PERKINS) wedding, Gwen caps off her embarrassing appearance by destroying the wedding cake and then driving a limo into someone's porch.

Rather than be sent to prison, Gwen is enrolled at Serenity Glen, a rehab center where the patients must go through a twenty-eight day program of accepting that they have a problem, participating in group meetings to discuss those problems and living substance free for nearly a month. Of course, Gwen doesn't think she belongs there or that she has a problem, and doesn't like the way that head nurse Betty (MARGO MARTINDALE) or her counselor and former addict himself, Cornell (STEVE BUSCEMI), treat her.

Nor is she particularly thrilled with her new set of "friends" that includes her roommate, Andrea (AZURA SKYE), a teenage junkie who's been through rehab before, as well as Bobbie Jean (DIANE LADD), a Southern housewife; Roshanda (MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE) whose addiction has troubled her kids; Daniel (RENI SANTONI), a former doctor whose addiction cost him his practice; Oliver (MICHAEL O'MALLEY), who's always hitting on Gwen; and Gerhardt (ALAN TUDYK), an insecure and gay German stripper.

When Jasper shows up for a little R&R from rehab, Gwen returns to the center drunk and/or high, thus breaking their rules. As a result, Cornell orders that she be removed from rehab and sent to prison to serve out her time. Facing that consequence, Gwen realizes she has to clean up her act and decides to participate in the center's activities.

As she tries to do so, she must deal with her cravings, Jasper's repeated attempts to relive their former lives, her relationship with her sister, and her partial attraction to fellow rehabber Eddie Boone (VIGGO MORTENSEN), a professional baseball pitcher who arrives at the center not only with his own problems, but words of wisdom for her as well.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
If there's any group of people who can identify having to go through rehab for drug and/or alcohol addiction, actors and actresses -- like professional athletes and musicians -- are certainly the ones. It seems like a week doesn't goes by before you hear of another celebrity, or mildly famous performer reportedly having such problems.

Despite, or perhaps because of their high profile lives, such people are just as prone as common, everyday folk to resorting to booze and/or drugs to take the edge off life. Just like those famous, or infamous stars, if you will, scores of regular people start to become addicts every day just as others finally decide or are forced to get help. While many aren't successful at kicking their substance habits, at least treatment offers them a chance to do so and regain some control over their lives.

That's the underlying theme of "28 Days," a drama/comedy hybrid about such an ordinary person getting a second chance at life. Of course, this sort of film and its accompanying lead role would seem a natural fit for many performers since a) they can obviously act and b) they either have firsthand experience of addiction and rehab or certainly know a colleague who does. In fact, and not meaning to paint that industry with too broad of a chastising stroke, it probably wasn't as easy as one would imagine finding someone to play the role who hadn't been through it, or would want to relive and/or admit to it by playing the part.

While I'll attest that I don't keep score of what celebrities have had what problems, it seems doubtful that actress Sandra Bullock ("Forces of Nature," "Hope Floats") is one of them. That said, she does deliver a credible job playing someone who has in this film. As written by Susannah Grant ("Erin Brockovich," "Ever After") and directed by Betty Thomas ("Dr. Dolittle," "The Brady Bunch Movie"), the picture is easy enough to watch and smartly includes a great deal of humor - some of it rather funny and obviously of the crowd pleasing variety - to offset the more somber moments and overall theme and thematic issues at hand.

Adding humor, however, to such proceedings is the equivalent of balancing on a bamboo rod over a pit of crocodiles - or testy film critics - in that either way you fall, the results aren't likely to be pretty. Laughter certainly makes such serious matter far more palatable to the masses and there's the old belief of there being healthy benefits if one is able to laugh at life's more serious moments. On the other hand, too much humor runs the risk of diminishing or undermining the more serious moments, turning them into a silly farce instead of an amusing drama.

Fortunately, the filmmakers don't go overboard with the laughs, although the script does present the more somber moments as some more akin to "Rehab Lite" than what the process is probably really like. Beyond a few random moments of anguish, the time spent at this film's rehab center is more like that at a camp, sort of a "Meatballs" for junkies and alcoholics (and the film even lifts the usage of humorous P.A. announcements from that film and other similarly set ones).

While competently structured and nicely mixing the comedy and drama, the plot doesn't offer much in the way of surprises. Instead, it simply follows a standard and predictable trajectory, including the obligatory inclusion of a cross section of society in rehab - the teen junkie, the older woman, the silly gay man, the black woman and the bitter, middle-aged man, etc.

Then there are the activities, such as a ropes course and repeated efforts of trying to use skill and technique, rather than force, to get a horse to lift up its foot, all of which are designed to teach the participants some important life lessons. Unfortunately, as presented here, they simply come off as more of a way of giving the characters something to do (other than just sitting around) rather than as something profound.

The film also takes Bullock's character through the usual dramatic arc of denial, anger, acceptance & fear, and then hope. While there's certainly nothing inherently wrong with that since it's the natural progression through which most people progress when faced with such trauma, it's just been done so many times before - especially in made for TV movies - that you know exactly what's going to happen from one moment to the next.

The script also neglects to offer enough fireworks during the dramatic moments to make those parts of the film sizzle or at least come off as different than the same old, same old. For instance, it may have made sense to make the protagonist a troubled actress, and thus be something of a fun spin on the Julia Roberts character in "Notting Hill." If not that, the character here should at least have had more of a substantial background and/or testy spunk to create some more dramatic fireworks.

Maybe it's due to Bullock's "girl next door" qualities (I know, she hates that phrase, but it's true), but her character - with no fault tied to her performance - just isn't that intriguing, and without the presence of any strong conflict, one can't expect strong drama. Even the moments when her character meets her counselor - played by Steve Buscemi ("Armageddon," "Fargo") in a clever, but credible bit of reverse typecasting - are mostly flat. Beyond Buscemi being wasted in an underdeveloped role that never really takes advantage of him being cast against type, there isn't enough chaffing between them to make their scenes together memorable, tense and/or entertaining.

While the remaining performers who play the other patients do get some of the film's funnier lines and moments - particularly Alan Tudyk ("Wonder Boys," "Patch Adams") as an insecure, gay German stripper - they mostly inhabit one-note characters. Viggo Mortensen ("A Perfect Murder," "A Walk on the Moon") and Dominic West ("William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Surviving Picasso") do get more substantial characters into which they can sink, at least partially, their thespian teeth. While Mortensen underplays his performance, West is quite entertaining as Gwen's party-hearty boyfriend/clad.

It's too bad that the film's dramatic moments don't have the same effective bite as its more humorous ones since the picture consequently often comes across as rather flat and predictable whenever something amusing isn't occurring. With a solid performance from Bullock and some typical Hollywood-esque supporting characters, the film certainly comes off as mostly effortless to watch, but ultimately doesn't turn into anything stirring, emotionally involving or special. Decent, but not great, "28 Days" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 11, 2000 / Posted April 14, 2000


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