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Drug Rehab: The Comedy

Alcoholism undergoes the Sandra Bullock treatment in 28 Days

Rehab, sweet rehab: It's the last resort of the alcoholic, the drug addict and the would-be suicide. Free room and board, lots of tender loving care and a whole herd of fellow recovering screwups who'll always be there for you and are willing to admit their imperfections at the drop of a hat. Throw in an Islands of Adventure-style obstacle course, the majestic backdrop of the great Smoky Mountains and a brand of tough love that includes confiscating all those annoying cell phones: It doesn't get any better than this, right?

Perhaps not, if you happen to be a character in a movie, and are portrayed by Sandra Bullock. It's all perfectly harmless fiction, provided that no one exits 28 Days with the idea that real-life rehab is this much of a blast. No one has ever looked as good as Sandra manages to do with a massive contusion on her forehead, or lying on the bathroom floor next to a puke-filled commode. If this is what alcoholism is like, sign us up!

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. 28 Days is probably going to make a ton of money, for three simple reasons. One, the overriding, albeit superficial, theme of girl, you gotta dump that no-good man of yours! Two, there are ample goofy moments to appease those who don't care to be lectured on the nature of addiction. And three, as ridiculous as it all is, it's somehow eminently watchable.

Bullock is Gwen, yet another variation of her standard lovable-flake persona, a screenwriter who appears to be drunk 24/7. Along with her equally flaky boyfriend, Jasper, she seems to spend her days dancing, drinking and having sex. That is, until said behavior makes her late for her sister's wedding and causes her to fall into the cake. Desperate to make amends, she hijacks a limo, searches in vain for a cake store and then drives into a house.

Flash forward. In lieu of jail, Gwen finds herself at Serenity Glen, a rehab facility in western North Carolina, which apparently is a mere cab ride away from New York. Stripped of her cell phone, Vicodin and eyelash curlers, Gwen is made to attend lectures with such titles as "Are you a blackout drunk, or don't you remember?" and "How many brain cells did I kill today?" and is forced to room with teen delinquent Andrea (Azura Skye). Naturally the place is teeming with lovable eccentrics, including Eddie (Viggo Mortensen, looking normal for once), a good ol' boy athlete who's addicted to sex; Daniel (Reni Santoni), an alcoholic doctor; Loudon Wainwright III, as himself, singing whimsical and tragic folk ditties about drunkenness that will unfortunately be long forgotten come next year's Oscars; and Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk), a gay German dancer (i.e. comic relief) who would be only slightly less convincing if portrayed by Dana Carvey in a bad wig.

Gwen is all set to do anything she can to either break out or, at the very least, subvert every single rule in the house, but things change when she bums a cigarette from a reformed druggie named Cornell (Steve Buscemi, surprisingly playing the straight man here). When counselor Cornell challenges her to remain sober, backed up by a threat to send her to jail otherwise, Gwen decides to tough it out simply to prove him wrong. And thus the healing begins. Through a series of comic misadventures, Gwen learns to share her feelings, calm down every once in a while, sincerely apologize to her sister (Elizabeth Perkins) and confront her past, which appears in the form of vignettes shot mostly on digital video but occasionally in black and white.

Director Betty Thomas has honed her skills mixing humor with a touch of pathos in such films as Private Parts and The Brady Bunch Movie, and the result here is no less effective, just a lot less believable. A token tragedy is inserted just to leaven the humor, but it happens to the most obviously tragic character and involves that person suddenly displaying a problem other than the one that has been established. And although drunken boyfriend Jasper is obviously an accessory to Gwen's drunkenness, couldn't she be a little more understanding of him? After all, he never forces her to do anything, and his problem is more or less the same as hers.

Ah, well. It's not like guy movies are any more realistic; just wait until Sylvester Stallone's rehab movie D-Tox comes out in the fall. A realistic depiction of rehab would inevitably be more critically acclaimed, but it would also be a major downer (see Michael Keaton's Clean and Sober for a taste of this). Audiences don't tend to react well to sheer, unbridled suffering. But a character beating tough odds, and striking a blow for sisterhood? That they'll pay to see. 28 Days may be escapism masquerading as infotainment, but as the former, it does its job well. And as sunny as the rehab facility is made to look, perhaps audience members will at least be discouraged from attending by the fact that no sex or romance is permitted with other inmates. Even in the unlikely event that they do look like Sandra Bullock.

28 Days.Directed by Betty Thomas. With Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, and Steve Buscemi. Rated PG-13.

 
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