After a string of duds like Hope Floats and Forces of Nature, Sandra Bullock finally gets the chance to strut her stuff once more in director Betty Thomas' comedy/drama "28 Days." But even though Bullock's performance as Gwen Cummings -- a besotted party girl who spends 28 court-ordered days in a rehab facility -- is a winning one, the film has problems of its own.
Falling somewhere between "Postcards from the Edge" and Girl, Interrupted in content and execution, "28 Days" starts out on the wrong foot by attempting to milk far too many laughs from Gwen's sloppy-drunk behavior. After ruining her sister Lilly's (Elizabeth Perkins) wedding, the soused sib takes off in the wedding party's limo, crashes into a house and finds herself forced into a recovery program. Boffo stuff, right? Thomas must not have learned the lesson of "Postcards," whose considerable humor dried up whenever the heroine played by Meryl Streep found her way back to booze and pills.
Screenwriter Susannah Grant ("Ever After") has populated the fairly luxurious rehab center with a variety of character types: the dotty old lady (Diane Ladd's Bobbie Jean); the rebellious adolescent (Azura Skye's Andrea), the overly sensitive gay man (Alan Tudyk's Gerhardt); and the drug-and-sex-addicted Major League baseball player (Viggo Mortensen's Eddie Boone), with whom Gwen is destined to engage in romantic flirtation.
It's hard for us to feel truly comfortable in a setting that's filled with so many clichés. (It doesn't help that the patients routinely launch into group renditions of "Lean On Me.") There also appear to be no strict rules about leaving the grounds, which seems awfully lax for a life-saving operation.
Where "28 Days" actually succeeds is in its depiction of the subtle but impressive transformation Bullock's character makes during her stay. Gwen slowly comes to the realization that her out-of-control existence, which was constantly encouraged by her boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West), has gotten her nowhere. It's time, she understands, to make some drastic changes.
Thomas ("The Brady Bunch," "Private Parts") deftly handles some very sensitive scenes. One that works extremely well has Mortensen's Boone approached by idolizing child fans while he's on an outing to the real world. As the kids ask him which car is his, he tries to avoid re-boarding the rehab-center bus; the pain and humiliation of his circumstance are effectively hammered home. And although the familial resolution between Gwen and Lilly may be a little too patly constructed, both Bullock and Perkins make it seem incredibly realistic as it plays out.
Even the wholly artificial touches can occasionally work. "Santa Cruz," a mock soap opera that happens to be the prime guilty pleasure of the center's residents, is a humorous spoof of the daytime-drama genre.
"28 Days" never truly finds a life of it's own. But as she carries its weight on her shoulders, Bullock proves that -- like the character she plays -- she's ready to set off in a new direction herself.