The majority of Reach Me writer/director John Herzfeld’s credits involve television, from TV series like Rob Lowe’s Dr. Vegas to TV films such as 1997’s Emmy-nominated Don King: Only in America. He’s done a bit of film work, notably 15 Minutes and 2 Days in the Valley, both films with enormous, famous casts that follow the lives of many supporting characters – falling in line closely with his latest. More importantly, he’s buds with Sylvester Stallone, who helped him crowdfund this project.
In the movie, a mysterious author (Tom Berenger) has written a self-help book, entitled “Reach Me,” that’s found its way into the hands of many unsuspecting Californians, slowly changing their lives and bringing them together in ways they could not have imagined. Its themes are relevant to all: freed inmates (Kyra Sedgwick), rich rappers (Nelly), and the journalists who pursue its elusive author (Kevin Connolly and Sylvester Stallone). The book will cause these characters to clash as their lives are enriched, bringing their friends, family and co-workers (like Thomas Jane, Cary Elwes, and Kelsey Grammar) with them.
The glaring issue with Herzfeld’s script is that there are just too many characters whose irrelevant stories distract from each other. The backbone of the plot rests on Connolly, whose bland character involves basically two aspects: his boss (Stallone) is always yelling at him, and he just can’t quit smoking. The actor’s effort is there, but the character’s predictable arc finishes too quickly. Others, like Jane, seem to be portraying caricatures of their previous work, while some of the big names, like Grammar, have only a few lines. Elwes rounds out the list as the only actor trying anything new, but by the time you realize which character he is, his scenes will be over.
Much worse than the failed characters is the lame attempt at crafting their inspiration. A self-help book unites almost every person in a fictional town, and yet, the audience is read almost none of its words. The legend of the miracle-working author includes tales that he can fix habits, like stuttering, overnight – which translates to multiple cringeworthy scenes between Berenger and Connolly as the latter tries to quit smoking. The very premise of the film implies that the script will at some point try to inspire you, but it never comes close.
There are a handful of comedic moments in Reach Me that work, but the momentum is ruined when the characters go back to pseudo-philosophizing. Some of the monologues – specifically Stallone’s about journalism and modern America – are so trite that it’s hard to tell if they’re meant to be taken seriously. The awkward balance between these unfunny comedy moments and unmoving dramatic scenes leaves the whole film feeling toneless and scatterbrained. But whenever you’re not sure which emotions to have, an invasive soft pop soundtrack that I can only assume was stolen from my mom’s car starts playing.
Most distasteful about Reach Me is the careless sexism and racism repeatedly evident from the film’s opening scene. One of the characters exists almost entirely to be sexually assaulted and then defended by Jane’s character; her assault is never mentioned again. Similarly, there’s a scene where he stops the anonymous assault of a white woman in a park by a group of faceless Latinos, the same stereotypes who try to rob a bank earlier in the movie.
Reach Me takes a long list of cliches – some more offensive than others – and mixes them all together with a fancy cast to make a boring, pretentious film. Reach for an actual book instead.
The Upside: A small amount of funny scenes from capable actors
The Downside: The film is condescending and somewhat offensive – offensively boring, for sure – from the beginning
On the Side: Reach Me started out on Kickstarter, before switching over to competitor Indiegogo for more crowdfunding