Many a road to movie hell is paved with good intentions. To that list of lost causes add Being Charlie, a well-meaning study of addiction that hits too many banal beats to snap us to attention. Nick Robinson excels as Charlie Mills, an 18-year-old substance abuser who breaks out of a Utah rehab center and hitches a ride back to Los Angeles, where his father, David (Cary Elwes), is a Hollywood action star now running for California governor. The last thing dad needs is his junkie son making a scene and a disastrous photo op for the tabloids.
Like I said, familiar stuff. But for director Rob Reiner, Being Charlie is one from the bruised heart. Nick Reiner, the director’s 22-year-old son, had his own experiences with addiction as a teen. And it was in rehab that Nick met Matt Elisofon, with collaborated with him on the script. There are times when the dialogue kicks up with unexpected humor — Charlie has dreams of doing standup and instructs his BFF Adam (Devon Bostick) on the retro wonders of Richard Pryor and Moms Mabley. But when dad lays down the law and ships Charlie off for a final chance at recovery, the film falls into the usual traps. Common has a few telling scenes as a counselor, but Charlie’s fellow inmates are mostly stereotypes, including Eva (Morgan Saylor), a smartass blonde who breaks the rules by hooking up with Charlie, who matches her snark for snark.
Credit is due to both Reiners for making Charlie damn hard to root for, but the film never holds together as authentic drama. Too many rough edges are sanded off Charlie’s life in the rush to a pat ending. Cliches are blunt instruments. They don’t cut deep. And Being Charlie is littered with them.