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Critical Care

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Critical Care

Starring: James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick
Director: Sidney Lumet
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genre: Comedy


*Also starring: Helen Mirren, Margo Martindale, Phillip Bosco, Wallace Shawn, Jeffery Wright, Anne Bancroft, Edward Herrmann, Albert Brooks



Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Sidney Lumet is a great director who is past his prime. Four decades ago, he received a well deserved Academy Award nomination for one of his first films, 12 ANGRY MEN. Three decades ago, he gave us THE PAWNBROKER. Two decades ago, when at the top of his form, he directed the hard edged SERPICO, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and NETWORK. And a decade ago, he came up with THE VERDICT.

In the 1990s, Lumet's films (Q & A, A STRANGER AMONG US, GUILTY AS SIN, and NIGHT FALLS ON MANHATTAN) have all been disappointments, even if each has had parts worth treasuring. His latest, CRITICAL CARE, fits firmly within his repertoire for this decade.

Although masquerading as a black comedy, CRITICAL CARE is actually a long polemic against the efficacy of our health care system. Set in an intensive care ward, the picture features doctors and hospitals interested in keeping terminally ill patients alive so long as their health insurance holds out. A side story has two warring half-sisters, played by Kyra Sedgwick and Margo Martindale, wanting to carefully adjust when their dying father perishes. Depending on the exact date of death, one or the other will get his entire ten million dollar fortune.

James Spader is partially miscast as the overworked and oversexed young resident, Dr. Werner Ernst. Spader is convincing as the latter, but his perfect hair, fashion model looks, flawless attire, and his relaxed demeanor makes it hard to believe that this is a guy who works 38 hours straight through. Dr. Ernst and Helen Mirren as Stella, the head nurse, are the show's conscience. The patients, who either beg to die or are long-term vegetables, have no one but this lone doctor and nurse to care about them. The doctors in charge of the hospital are interested only in the health insurance money, and the other doctors' sole motive is promotion.

Filmed by David Watkin with oversaturated whites to emphasize the clean room atmosphere of the hospital and scripted by Richard Dooling and Steven S. Schwartz with Orwellian logic, the self-absorbed film has strong pretensions. The dialog, although there are quite a few nice one-liners, generally falls flat. Never quite entertaining, rarely enlightening, and only sporadically funny, the movie seems destined for a limited market.

The hospital has two role models. One is a Dr. Hofstader, played with military precision by Philip Bosco, who claims that, "seeing patients is a waste of time." He has his patients all hooked up with probes that feed into cyberspace. His diagnosis is done in a room full of computers. And he carries two cell phones wherever he goes so he can simultaneously consult with two of his colleagues throughout the world while talking with someone else next to him.

In complete contrast is an almost unrecognizable Albert Brooks as Dr. Butz, a chronic alcoholic, who lives in an old office with dusty file cabinets. Looking in his late 60s, Dr. Butz forgets everything except how to make money.

In one episode, Dr. Ernst argues against unnaturally prolonging the life of one of his permanently vegetative patients by yet another medical procedure. "If he's going to die, why should we proceed," Dr. Ernst asks. "Where have you been all your life?" Dr. Butz shouts back. "It's called revenue!" The patient, it turns out, has three health insurance policies which came through with $112,000 for last month's bill. Case closed as far as Dr. Butz is concerned.

In a great twist, Dr. Butz readily admits that he personally has no health insurance because he doesn't want to be artificially kept alive like his patients. The show has a similarly clever ending, but none of this makes up for the tedium of most of the picture. Rather than seeing CRITICAL CARE, go and rent one of Lumet's great films. I'd start with 12 ANGRY MEN.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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