Reach for Me -- Film Review

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MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- From the moment we encounter the terminally ill Alvin (Seymour Cassel), an irascible, sexist misanthrope spending his last days at a hospice in the painfully corny, "Reach for Me," we know he's headed for a major transformation by the last reel. A walking stereotype, it's never in doubt that he'll learn valuable life lessons and change his tune before he straightens out and dies right.

If there's hope, for the film that is, it lies in the winning presence of Cassel (who's also an executive producer), though he has to suppress much of his natural on-screen amiability to play a selfish off-putting troublemaker. LeVar Burton directs and appears in a minor role as a hospice attendant in this pedestrian, tear stained melodrama, a soapy movie of the week that seems tailor made for straight-to-cable broadcast.

The film is unsparing in its depiction of the loss of control of bodily functions -- and loss of body parts -- to illness. If only equal realism had been applied to the writing, which after pumping Alvin's sexual crudity and demanding behavior for humor, rapidly turns to mush. Burton's serviceable direction and the charismatic Cassel cannot overcome Michael Bruce Adams' sentimental, manipulative screenplay and sappy dialogue.

Alvin taxes the patience of his long suffering nurse (Alfre Woodard, bringing her usual dignity and inner strength to the part) and fellow hospice residents including a potential romantic interest, Valerie (an unrecognizable Adrienne Barbeau), until a model of how to love deeply and die with grace arrives in the form of Alvin's new roommate, Kevin (Johnny Whitworth).

Young and remarkably buff for someone wasting away from terminal cancer, Kevin has a positive attitude and an angelic girlfriend, Sarah (Lacey Chabert), who plays the guitar and sings to him. As Julio Reyes Copello's cloying score swells on the soundtrack, a weeping Kevin confides to her that what he wants most is that she be happy with someone else when he's gone, if not before.

The couple's idyllic connection and Kevin's selflessness supposedly rub off on Alvin. His flashbacks (done in saturated color) to old conversations with his bitter ex-wife lead him to see the error of his ways and seek companionship with Valerie, developments that defy belief.

With an aging population and the debate over death and dying intensifying, there's an audience for a tough, credible drama about coming to terms with the end of life, one that deals with the rage and humiliation of living inside a body that's betraying itself. Unfortunately, this isn't it.

Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival

Production company: AMediaVision Productions
Cast: Seymour Cassel, Alfre Woodard, Johnny Whitworth, Lacey Chabert, Adrienne Barbeau, Charlene Blaine, Larry Hankin, LeVar Burton
Director: LeVar Burton
Screenwriter: Michael Bruce Adams
Executive producers: Gary Passon, Seymour Cassel
Producers: Charlene Blaine-Schulenburg, Susan R. Rodgers, Mark Wolfe
Director of photography: Kris Krosskove
Production designer: Jen Fiedler
Music: Julio Reyes Copello
Costume designer: Mikel Padilla
Editor: Avril Beukes
No rating, 90 minutes
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