Bullock's astute performance as a woman who reclaims her life should attract a sizable female audience to this Columbia release. But the film figures to have had a potentially wider audiences had its makers looked past symptoms and seen flesh-and-blood people instead.
Even Bullock's Gwen Cummings is so sketchily drawn that even by movie's end, we scarcely know her. Supposedly she is a writer, but what does she write and for whom? And why is she with that jerk of a boyfriend (Dominic West) with whom she gets roaring drunk?
All one sees in the movie's opening scenes -- which seriously smack of overkill -- are these two riding liquid waves from Manhattan dance club to bar to bed. But when she flames out at her sister's wedding and joyrides a rented limo, she earns 28 days in court-ordered rehab.
She arrives at idyllic Serenity Glen sullen and resistant. At first, one can hardly blame her. Grant and her director, Betty Thomas, initially portray the other patients virtually as circus freaks, especially Reni Santoni's neurotic doctor and Alan Tudyk's over-the-top gay stripper with a bad German accent.
Gwen shuns the group chanting and sing-alongs until one night she finds herself hanging from a tree outside her upstairs window in a desperate attempt to retrieve a medicine bottle of soothing pills. Following her fall -- and a bad ankle sprain -- Gwen buckles down to the serious business of conquering her addiction.
About this time, the film somewhat (though never completely) overcomes its proclivity for whacked-out behavior more appropriate to a mental institute than a rehab center. Gwen's encounters with Eddie (Viggo Mortensen), a fellow rehabber and big league baseball pitcher, produce romantic sparks. And the painful struggles of her quiet, heroin-addicted roommate Andrea (Azura Skye) serve to remind her of how hard the voyage back to normalcy will be.
That people's lives hang in the balance unquestionably adds to this drama. But if the purpose of drama is to reveal character, "28 Days" steadfastly refuses to deliver.
Most crucially, the film fudges what lies behind Gwen's addiction with all-too-pat explanations. In flashbacks filmed in underlit and out-of-focus video, we learn that her father died at an early age and her mother was a lush -- which doesn't completely explain her self-destructive tendencies any more than they explain why Gwen's sister (Elizabeth Perkins) has managed to overcome these liabilities.
Bullock plays Gwen as a hyperactive individual, so burning up with nervous energy that she is unable to sit still for even a minute. Mortensen is more the strong, silent type, as dedicated to the recovery of his health as he is to the restoration of his fastball.
Thomas has the luxury of a solid cast including two former Oscar nominees -- Diane Ladd and Marianne Jean-Baptiste -- in fairly small roles, as well as Steve Buscemi, who cleverly underplays the role of a counselor whose dark past gives him the voice of experience.
Thomas also has a solid below-the-line crew that has created in Serenity Glen -- shot at a YMCA facility in North Carolina -- a friendly and rural rehab center where one would feel guilty for not getting well.
A Tall Trees production
A Betty Thomas film
Producer: Jenno Topping
Director: Betty Thomas
Screenwriter: Susannah Grant
Director of photography: Declan Quinn
Production designer: Marcia Hinds-Johnson
Music: Richard Gibbs
Co-producer: Celia Costas
Costume designer: Ellen Lutter
Editor: Peter Teschner
Gwen Cummings: Sandra Bullock
Eddie Boone: Viggo Mortensen
Jasper: Dominic West
Lily: Elizabeth Perkins
Andrea: Azura Skye
Cornell: Steve Buscemi
Gerhardt: Alan Tudyk
Roshanda: Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Bobbie Jean: Diane Ladd
Running time -- 103 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13