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Review: Earnest drama ‘Sgt. Will Gardner’ stumbles under weight of message

Review: Earnest drama ‘Sgt. Will Gardner’ stumbles under weight of message
Max Martini in a scene from "Sgt. Will Gardner." (Karen Kuehn / Cinedigm)

Writer-director-star Max Martini tackles an ambitious canvas in the well-intended “Sgt. Will Gardner.” But his filmmaking instincts, undercut by the script’s meandering, episodic structure, prove too self-indulgent and heavy-handed to tell the kind of emotionally involving tale about post-traumatic stress disorder among returning soldiers that he clearly had in mind.

Martini plays Will, an Iraq War veteran who sustained a traumatic brain injury in combat (seen in flashbacks) and had major trouble readjusting to civilian life after returning stateside.

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After a hectic start, the film finds the destitute Will heading east from L.A. on a stolen motorcycle, stopping en route to parts unknown for random encounters that are by turns fraught, drunken, raucous or sexual. But it’s his reunion with his ex-wife (Elizabeth Röhm) and young son (Leo Martini) that resonates most strongly here, even if mother and child seem overly accepting of the absentee Will.

Other interactions in this overlong, message-heavy film are less effective: Will’s constant chats with the ghost of a fallen war buddy (a charismatic Omari Hardwick); a smitten ex-office drone (Lily Rabe) who ludicrously mistakes Will for actor Bryan Cranston; and a homeless, one-legged vet (Luis Bordonada) who accompanies Will on the end of his journey.

Dermot Mulroney, Gary Sinise, JoBeth Williams and Robert Patrick also appear in small roles.

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‘Sgt. Will Gardner’

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8; also on VOD

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