`28 Days' a maddening cocktail

Movie reviews

April 14, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Give Sandra Bullock credit for knowing her limitations. Having steadily built up her star clout since appearing in "Speed" about a thousand years ago, she easily could have gone the "Girl, Interrupted" route, adapting some searing first-person memoir to explore her inner demons and (God forbid) "stretch" herself as an actress.

In "28 Days" she gets to explore inner demons, but not enough to cast a pall over her famously perky persona.

She may be a recovering alcoholic and pill addict, but here rehab is more the comic milieu of some lovable, wacky characters than metaphor for human suffering in a world gone mad.

Bullock's character goes through some changes, but she never turns into some unrecognizably serious actress. It's telling and appropriate that the posters for "28 Days" show Bullock's character in the active alcoholic phase of her life, drink in hand and fun-loving grin widening over her face. She's still the party girl we've all grown to love and pay good money to watch.

Bullock plays Gwen Cummings, who is sentenced to 28 days of rehabilitation when she ruins her sister's wedding, steals a limousine and crashes it into a suburban house.

What comes next scarcely bears describing, its formula is so familiar: Gwen arrives as a bundle of sarcastic defenses and denial; meets a gaggle of lovable, wacky characters; they proceed to teach her lessons about life, loss and vulnerability; and then she dumps the guy. (Did we mention there's a guy?)

Cue music, roll credits, that'll be $12 million, next.

This is not to say that "28 Days" doesn't have its moments. Great fun is had with a soap-opera-within-a-movie to which the rehabbers are addicted, and Bullock does a convincing enough job of portraying a young woman trying to grapple, if superficially, with her self-destructive habits. (Of Alcoholics Anonymous' "one day at a time" philosophy, she quips, "Like two, three days at a time is an option?")

Less successful are some of the stock supporting characters (Alan Tudyk's impersonation of Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove leaps to mind), and Steve Buscemi is squandered as a tough therapist involved in an equine therapy sub-plot.

A climactic scene, during which we're asked to cheer while Bullock picks up a horse's leg, may be designed to bathe viewers in emotion, but they're more likely to think they're knee-deep in something else.

`28 Days'

Starring Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortenson, Steve Buscemi

Directed by Betty Thomas

Rated PG-13 (mature thematic elements involving substance abuse, language and some sensuality

Running time 103 minutes

Released by Columbia Pictures

Sun score * 1/2

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