Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:43 - Released 4/14/00

After abandoning acting 10 years ago for the director's chair, Betty Thomas has had a rather spotty career, helming such a dubiously eclectic variety of films as The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Private Parts (1997), and Dr. Dolittle (1998). Her latest opus, 28 Days, written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), combines her uneven touch with Grant's emotional oversimplification, resulting in a product that alternately hits and misses — surprisingly astute in some scenes, surprisingly corny or trite in others. This film will likely be compared to last December's Girl, Interrupted, a story set in a women's psychiatric facility, but to find something more akin to the subject, one must go all the way back to the 1988 Michael Keaton film Clean And Sober, about the experience of an alcoholic/drug user drying out in rehab. And even if 28 Days oversimplifies and sometimes mocks the gravity of the subject, it provides Sandra Bullock with the opportunity to do some adequate work. Good performances by those around her help greatly to compensate for the script's logical errors and flippant tone.

After ruining her sister's (Elizabeth Perkins) wedding by making an inappropriate toast, squishing the wedding cake, and wrecking the limo into a nearby house, alcoholic party girl Gwen (Bullock) is given a choice: she can either serve jail time or spend a month in the Serenity Glen Rehabilitation Center in Bedford, New York. Although she is accustomed to drinking beer for breakfast and enjoying an unlimited supply of Vicodin, ostensibly for back pain, she is thereafter not even allowed caffeinated coffee, since it is considered "mood altering." (Of course, she and everyone else still smokes like a chimney.) The facility, not just for drug and alcohol abusers, serves a wide range of addicts, including Gwen's roommate Andrea (Azura Skye), who is hooked on a TV soap opera, Eddie (Viggo Mortensen), a pro baseball star addicted to cocaine and sex, and Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk), a German homosexual whose principal reason for being there is to make fun of Germans and homosexuals. The only one Gwen wants to see, however, is her wacky boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West), who smuggles drugs to her whenever he visits.

As in Clean And Sober, our protagonist goes through various emotional and mental states when she enters the clinic, including open hostility, fear, delirium, derision toward other patients, and denial of her addictions. She makes escape attempts, refuses to join in the group's chanting sessions, withdraws from therapy, and inadvertently asks her counselor (Steve Buscemi) for drugs before realizing she has a problem. Finally through the love and support of her fellow abusers, she discovers the meaning of life. A pretty shallow plot, but it has a few moments.

It's a clever touch (and I wonder if it's even intentional) on the part of director Thomas to associate Gwen's drug/alcohol flashbacks with the music of David Crosby and Three Dog Night's Chuck Negron, two of the rock world's most famous rehabilitated drug addicts. Bullock is adequate in her mixed-up state, and there are many funny moments involving the motley crew of fellow "inmates," but I can't help feeling that this film makes recovering from drug addiction look like a hilarious experience filled with clever wisecracks and funny caricatures. A grave subject is dealt with at one point, but mostly we just see the camaraderie between formerly agressive fellow addicts. This film covers an issue too serious to be taken lightly, and I'm not sure if its writer or director understand that. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive