"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.
Now, onto the real story, WHICH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT WOMAN'S CAR
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
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!
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