She's young, beautiful and living the good life -- if you're watching from a distance. Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock) has a cute boyfriend, a great New York City apartment, a wide circle of friends and a rewarding job as a writer.
She also has a drinking problem -- one that, through an embarrassing series of events involving her sister's wedding, a torn dress and a wrecked limousine, lands her in a rural rehab clinic called, nauseatingly enough, Serenity Glen.
That's how ''28 Days'' unfolds. It's a saga that wants to show us exactly how one young, hip woman goes through all sorts of unpleasant phases on her way to discovering herself and getting her life on track.
And that, sadly, is why this movie is aggressively mediocre.
The premise is a good one, a ''Lost Weekend'' for the post-Boomer era. But it sinks in a morass of predictability, and by the end you feel like you've sat through a finger-wagging educational filmstrip shown to adolescents in a high-school auditorium.
See Gwen blanch as they confiscate her painkillers, her hair dryer and -- yikes! -- her cell phone. See her puke as she goes through caffeine withdrawal. See her crawl onto a tree limb to retrieve discarded pills. See her irony-drenched expression as she watches fellow rehabbers stand in a circle and chant. And we won't even talk about the equine therapy.
Then, even more predictably, watch as she gradually (as gradually as is possible for 28 days) begins to ''get it'' and realizes how low she's sunk.
This predictability is doubly sad given the potential ''28 Days'' had.
It features great characters, among them Steve Buscemi in a somewhat uncharacteristic role as a rehab counselor and Viggo Mortensen as a besotted country-boy ballplayer trying to dry out before his career is shot. The best by far is Andrea (Azura Skye), a lost teen-ager who isn't even sure if she wants to stay in this world.
Bullock, as Gwen, does very well; the fresh-scrubbed look that catapulted her to fame in the mid-1990s only makes her fall seem farther when she hits rock bottom.
But why sink into lesson-teaching? This movie might as well have been made by the rehab lobby. The story and character arcs are pure Screenwriting 101, and every time something unexpected seems poised to happen, the script reaches out, grabs it and pulls it back in line.
Give Gwen this: She's stubborn, obsessive and unreceptive to help (like a good New Yorker should be), so when she starts to mend her ways, it can be wrenching. Bullock does her best to carry this off, and -- despite the script's limitations -- she succeeds. She's the girl next door, suddenly trapped in her own skin.
And because Gwen is one of the ''beautiful people,'' her fall feels more devastating. After all, young people having a good time are supposed to be a bit out of control, right? That's the one stereotype that ''28 Days'' does manage to knock down, and it's an important message.
The underlying messages of ''28 Days'' are good ones: Talk to each other. Know how to ask for help. And don't live life hiding your emptiness behind controlled substances.
''The whole point of the game is to minimize the pain,'' her boyfriend-slash-enabler Jasper (Dominic West) tells her.
It isn't, of course. The whole point is to experience the pain, let it motivate you and deal with it, creating a better life for yourself in the process. And if ''28 Days'' had spent more time on that message, it would have ended up being a far better film.
''28 Days,'' a Columbia Pictures release, is directed by Betty Thomas (''The Brady Bunch Movie'') from a script by Susannah Grant (''Erin Brockovich'').
Running time 103 minutes; rated PG-13.
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