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Critical Care

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Critical Care," a spoof of doctors and hospitals more concerned with a vital bottom line than in restoring their patients' health, is only mildly satiric, but that's OK. A book or movie or theater piece which seeks to ridicule an institution of society does not have to hit it over the head with a sledgehammer. Many mild-manned lampoons are effective indeed. You need look only to such masterworks as the music of Gilbert and Sullivan or the comedies of Oscar Wilde to witness the power of restrained ridicule. Greedy lawyers, self- seeking doctors, and pseudo-religious hypocrites have been taunted for a while now. Didn't Shakespeare's King Henry VI say "let's kill all the lawyers," Moliere's Tartuffe explain "To sin in private is not a sin," and Paddy Chayefsky's George C. Scott complain "We cure nothing"? What we need, then, is a new way of looking at the evils that professionals and institutions practice. Despite Steven Schwartz's clever writing and Sidney Lumet's dutiful direction, "Critical Care" is not that novelty.

The setting of "Critical Care," which is filmed almost completely in a studio, has the airless look of an ultra-modern hospital, one which is surprisingly quiet for an urban medical center, making Dr. Werner Ernst's (James Spader) complaints about overwork seem strange. The story focuses on professionals' reactions to two patients near-death; one is comatose and kept alive only technically, the other quite conscious but virtually unable to move and eager for death. By the time the film ends, Dr. Ernst has gone through a metamorphosis, changing from a self-serving, skirt chasing physician eager to make up in money and partying for all the suffering he endured through ten years of college, to a true professional who feels entitled for the very first time to call himself a doctor.

The drama takes off when Felicia (Kyra Sedgwick), a bimbo model whose father is in a persistent vegetative state, asks that the old man be removed from life support. The conflict arises when Connie (Margo Martindale), her apparently devout, bible-thumping sister, refuses to authorize the pulling of the plug, insisting that dad hears everything she says to him and communicates by squeezing her hand. In short order the hypocrisy of both women is exposed, but not before Ernst is seduced by Felicia, leading him into a serious case of blackmail.

Ernst discusses the case repeatedly with his supervising physician, Dr. Butz (Albert Brooks)--who is unrecognizable in the disguise of an alcoholic geezer with his mind as much on money as Ernst's is on models. Butz comes on as the classic case of the medical profession's obsession with insurance. Reminding Ernst to treat even hopeless cases if they have comprehensive, catastrophic coverage and reject those who have none, Butz is the comic center of the film whose other characters seem to speak primarily in the hushed tones of a public library. He does convey some words of wisdom worth our consideration: Make sure you do not allot big bucks for catastrophic health insurance and you'll die with a smile on your face. Lumet proves his point by displaying some of the suffering which terminal patients go through while being kept only technically alive.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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