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John Q.

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: John Q.

Starring: Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: February 2002
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Anne Heche, Ray Liotta, Shawn Wayne Hatosy, Kimberly Elise, Eddie Griffin, Ethan Suplee, Obba Babatunde, Laura Harring, James Woods

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

"John Q" is a preachy, screechy, wildly implausible melodrama that takes very real, serious health care issues and uses them for cheap histrionics. The film is cartoonish, over-the-top and silly as hell, all of which helps to explain why I enjoyed it.

Before I get excessively flippant, let me stress that I am aware of the many people in our country that go without needed medications and receive inadequate health care because they don't have the money to pony up for Grade A insurance. No American citizen should suffer or die for lack of money and the fact that it routinely happens is shameful.

There, now that my sensitivity is reaffirmed, it's time to get on with the important business of making fun of this movie.

"John Q" opens on a sunny day in the country, with a beautiful young woman driving like a lunatic on a curvy road. After ignoring the solid yellow line and squeaking through a couple of near collisions, her luck runs out and a big rig squashes her car.

Who is the woman? Will we learn more about her as the film goes on? Will her story be told via flashbacks? Or could it be that we are watching the deus ex machina making a cameo appearance? No, that couldn't be it. For a filmmaker to tip his hand at the beginning of his movie would be stupid. You know, the best thing to do is just forget about her.


John Q. Archibald (Denzel Washington) is an average guy that we can all relate to (he has a bit of a belly on him, so you know he's a regular Joe). Since the factory cut his hours in half, he must struggle to pay the bills for his family. John is utterly devoted to his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) and 9-year old son Michael (Daniel E. Smith, a newcomer who bears a faint resemblance to Gary Coleman).

A side note: One day, John prepares to leave for work and says "Goodbye" to his son. "Not 'Goodbye.' I hate 'Goodbye,'" Michael intones. "See you later, Dad." What an odd thing for a child to say. Why, it's the sort of statement that might be poignantly echoed later in the film. Nah, that would be too cheesy. I should just watch the movie and FORGET I EVER HEARD THAT.

Money may be tight, but the family gets by on love, which, as "I Am Sam" taught us, is all we need. Then, during a softball game, Michael keels over. Mom and Dad rush him to the hospital where they learn that their child's heart is three times too big and he needs a new one. No problem, John's health insurance will cover it. But wait! When the company scaled back his hours, they also scaled back his coverage. The insurance will not cover the cost of a transplant.

John and Denise plead with a smart, smarmy surgeon (I don't think the character was supposed to be smarmy, but James Woods plays him, so there you go). He's willing to waive his fee, but that still won't come close to covering costs. They plead with the appropriately named hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (played by Anne Heche, whose sexual orientation changed 11 times during the making of the film), only to hear her clipped, icy voice suggest that they save time and start the grieving process now.

John and Denise try fund raising. They sell all their belongings. They go to the local TV station's problem solver, who ignores them because that's the only way for the movie to continue. Then John receives a call from Denise informing him that the hospital is preparing to discharge Michael. In a complete panic, she screams at her husband, "Do something! DO SOMETHING!"

And so he does. John puts a gun to the head of the smarmy surgeon, marches him down to the emergency room and takes over the place. "This hospital's under new management now," he says with the kind of action hero inflection that would do Arnold Schwarzenegger proud.

His hostages are two or three hospital workers and an E.R. waiting room containing a rainbow coalition of patients (I think they were the same people who were on the bus in "Speed"). At first they are terrified, but they soon come to love this common-man-fighting-the-power-to-save-his-son. Who wouldn't?

Man, I wish I could be one of John's hostages too.

The police surround the place, with Officer Robert Duvall sauntering over from "Falling Down" to negotiate with John. When he asks if anyone is hurt, John answers, "It's an E.R. room. Everybody's hurt!" Yes, there actually are a few intentionally funny lines in the film.

As the evil police chief (Ray Liotta) plots to kill John, a preening TV reporter broadcasts police hidden video footage of the desperate father and gushes, "This is the greatest thing I've ever seen. This is my white Bronco!" John quickly becomes the folk hero du jour and the police must contend with hoards of supporters standing on the sidelines, hoping that John will come out and chant, "Attica! Attica!"

Will John end up a bullet-riddled corpse? Will Michael get his transplant? Will aliens take Anne Heche away before her final scene? And what about the car wreck lady? For the answers to these burning questions, you will have to see "John Q."

Or think for about two seconds.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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