'28 Days': Cold Turkey

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 14, 2000

An unrealistic vehicle for a soused Sandra Bullock, "28 Days" aims to be "The Lost Weekend" for high-flying yuppies. But it's curiously cheerful for a film that deals with substance abuse, self-mutilation, sex addiction and dying too young. And the movie's main setting--a bucolic rehab center called Serenity Glen--could easily be mistaken for a sleep-away camp.

Bullock manages to be likable even while throwing up in the role of life-of-the-party-girl Gwen Cummings. Gwen and her handsome British enabler-fiance (Dominic West) are on a bender when she suddenly realizes she's late for her older sister's wedding. When she arrives 45 minutes behind schedule, Gwen barely manages to stagger down the aisle.

That's bad enough, but not when you compare it with Gwen's further antics, which include falling into the wedding cake and crashing the honeymoon limo into a neighbor's living room. Faced with jail or rehab, Gwen chooses to do her 28 days at Serenity Glen. Along with plain talk from her counselor (world-weary Steve Buscemi), she gets to know herself better with the help of country outings, insipid sing-alongs and a wacky therapy involving horses and their hooves.

A cynic through and through, Gwen is determined not to conform. But, predictably, she begins to like her eccentric fellow patients and the goofy ambiance, and she's even moved to join in a chorus of "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog." Though the film demonstrates the tragic consequences of drug abuse, it makes recovery look almost like fun. Which seems to seriously underestimate the stakes.

In many ways, "28 Days" feels like "Cinderella, Clean and Sober." And there's good reason, when you discover that screenwriter Susannah Grant also wrote the scripts for "Pocahontas," "Ever After" and "Erin Brockovich." Every single one of which is driven by a plucky heroine who is wooed by a gorgeous and sensitive stud. Here, it's the vital Viggo Mortensen as a sex-addicted baseball pitcher who would be so right for Gwen if only he could keep his pants on when he's around other women.

The film, slickly directed by Betty Thomas, seems to be headed toward the most obvious ending of all when the story suddenly turns in an unexpected direction. Too bad the filmmakers weren't able to kick their habits more often.

28 Days (103 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for drug use, language and adult themes.

© 2000 The Washington Post Company