Sunday, October 5, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF ''28 DAYS'' (2000)

If you've ever seen either "The Lost Weekend" (1945) with Ray Milland or "Clean and Sober" (1988) with Michael Keaton, you know that rehab is serious stuff. Of course, movies are designed to entertain more often than enlighten, so when Hollywood makes a movie about rehab, you've got to figure that their target audience contains people that have never seen the inside of a rehab clinic. Meanwhile, the people who have been through rehab certainly wouldn't want to suffer through this shallow dramedy anymore than they'd choose to reenter rehab. Moreover, they'd probably throw up at the sight of Sandra Bullock trying to act not only as a drunk but also a funny hiccup drunk. What else could you possibly expect from a mainstream movie aspiring to make millions about subject matter that most people abhor? Happy drunks have always been more fun to watch than reformed relics who have learned that the bottle holds booze better than they ever could. Consequently, life before recovery is a blast in "28 Days," but life afterward is the blahs. Neither director Betty ("Dr. Doolittle" and Private Parts") Thomas nor scripter Susannah ("Erin Brockovich" and "Ever After") Grant achieves little symmetry between the two so that "28 Days" (** out of ****) is anticlimactic.In this strictly superficial account about substance abuse, the souses have more fun than the sober. The best scenes in this entertaining but unexceptional yarn feature Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock of "Speed") not only colliding with his sister's wedding cake but also later car-jacking a stretch limo and parking it in the living room of a house in the suburbs as she searches for a cake to replace the one that she destroyed. (Anybody who has had a drunk careen into their house with a car problem probably won't sympathize with our heroine.) Gwen dismisses her own drunken shenanigans until the legal system packs her off to Serenity Glen, a cozy North Carolina rehab clinic to dry out for four weeks. The formula screenplay about a party gal-in-limbo resembles a pallid but grown-up version of "Girl Interrupted." This flaky, often funny ensemble cast soaper lacks the emotional depth of the Winona Ryder epic. Nevertheless, despite its gallows humor, you know from the get-go that "28 Days" never takes rehab seriously. A serious rehab dramedy would have put its starlet through the ringer. Instead, the only people who have a tough time are the supporting cast. Sadly, interesting as the supporting cast is, none ever makes more than a sketchy impression.Most of the action occurs in the sticks at Serenity Glen. When Gwen arrives, she finds herself surrounded by a cuckoo's next of inmates that chant, hug, hold hands, bare souls, and sing silly songs. In other words, character actor heaven! Eccentric characters populate "28 Days," ranging from an antagonistic ex-doctor, Daniel (Reni Santoni of "Dirty Harry"), who pumped his own stomach to curb his alcoholism then performed an emergency tracheotomy on himself, to a sissified gay German dancer with a cocaine problem, Gerhardt I Alan Tudyk of "Serenity" in Peter Sellers' glasses) who chews the scenery. Fleshing out this circus of misfits are Bobbie Jean (Diane Ladd of "The Cemetery Club"), dysfunctional southern housewife, Andrea (Azura Skye of "One Missed Call") a teen junkie with a death wish, Oliver (Michael O'Malley of "Leatherheads") a womanizer, and Roshanda (Marianne Jean-Baptiste of "Spy Game") an African-American mom who drug addiction has alienated her kids.Predictably, Gwen refuses to confront her own addiction until her offbeat counselor Cornell (Steve Buscemi of "Reservoir Dogs"), an ex-junkie himself, threatens her with jail time. At that point, "28 Days" seems like "28 Years" as we watch Gwen struggle to redeem herself while the others around her chart heir own courses of self-destruction. The closest character comparable to the Angelina Jolie rebel in "Girl, Interrupted" is Azura Skye's heroin-dependent teenager. Not even her tragic demise casts a shadow over this comedy. Meanwhile, Gwen bounces between two guys, her bacchanalian boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West of "300") and Eddie (Viggo Mortensen of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy), a baseball pro with a whole league of problems. Eventually, Gwen straightens up, with a little help from her ascetic sister Lily (Elizabeth Perkins of "Must Love Dogs"), and she emerges clean and sober. The protagonist's plight can often be gauged by the obstacle course that they tackle. The Sandra Bullock character has an incredibly effortless time kicking the habit. The worst thing that happens to her is that she falls out of a tree. She fares better than either Meg Ryan did "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1994) or Lee Remick did in "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) with Jack Lemmon.Susannah Grant's screenplay strains credibility. Although some of her dialogue triggers gales of laughter, the premise that women like Gwen could draw a mere 28 days in a posh rehab center after her antics seems improbable. What judge would possibly dismiss grand larceny and DWI as easily as the one you never see in this movie? Again, when Gwen's tough-minded counselor decides to send her off to jail, she pouts and reforms.Director Betty Thomas leans on comedy like a crutch so that "28 Days" gets neither too depressing nor too realistic. Again, the only thing that salvages "28 Days" is its gratuitous gags. The "Santa Cruz" soap opera bits are hilarious, especially those tiny clusters of brain tumors. Obvious allusions to "M.A.S.H." with its loudspeaker humor about alcoholism and rehab are cute remainders that imitation qualifies as the sincerest form of flattery. Surprisingly, Thomas pokes fun at womanizing. Every good movie winds up on a high note, but "28 Days" ends on a low note. Clearly, Thomas never saw one of the funniest but more realistic rehab comedies ever made where staying sober beat staying sloshed: "Stuart Saves His Family." Altogether, "28 Days" implies life is a bore when you aren't bombed.

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