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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The producers of "John Q" has put their heart in the right place. But then we ccould have predicted that during the first ten minutes of the shrill movie as we watch a woman on the road, passing a truck illegally, and taking the consequences. But though the picture's heart is in the right place or winds up there "John Q" is sending out a political message that some influential people might dispute, and not just conservative doctors and the super-rich. The message, as repeated in the end in sound bites from the usual cameo cast of Jay Leno and Larry King to which director Nick Cassavetes adds Senator Hilary Clinton and Bill Maher, is that the United States, the only rich country in the western world without universal health insurance, sorely needs to make some changes. Forty million Americans are at the mercy of poorly staffed and inadequately supplied emergency rooms and third-rate hospitals simply because they do not have a card that is the birthright of every Canadian and presumably everyone from Western Europe today.

Then again, left-leaning agitation for socially-conscious medicine may be what scripter James Kearns years for but the profit-making film studio is more interested in drawing an audience for bellowing melodrama, soap-opera production values, and the rantings of a great actor who is reduced to being a hero to the multitudes of Americans who have allegedly been shafted by a Congress which was as indifferent today to government health insurance as it was during Bill Clinton's first year in office.

Truth to tell, however, the hero-criminal, John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington), has a justifiable grievance against the system just as we all do from time to time, but most of us do not act like criminals to try to beat the system. As anguished as we may be by the unreasonable treatment we receive at the hands of those with the power to give us what we want, we do not resort to kidnapping and threats to murder innocent civilians if the authorities do not give us everything we want.

The particulars are these...John Q so named not only because his name is John Quincy Archibald but because he presumably represents the views of The Public has a problem. His ten-year-old son Mike (Daniel E. Smith), who receives considerable love from his parents John and Denise (Kimberly Elise), collapses on the baseball field and has been found to have an enlarged heart. He will die in a matter of weeks unless he receives a heart transplant. The operation costs $250,000, with $30,000 needed up front even to get the kid's name on the waiting list unless the family has adequate medical insurance, which HMO-carrying John does not. When he is unable to raise the money by appealing to his friends and neighbors, he takes control of the hospital, announcing that he will kill hostages unless the boy's name is put on the list. What do you make of this? Is John a hero? I believe director Cassavetes wants us to think so.

What's not treated in the story is the fact that even if a person does find himself on the lucky list, he is likely not to receive a donor heart in time to save his life. In a Hollywood melodrama, however, this is not the sort of routine quandary that need be addressed. Despite a story line that could have come out of "E.R." the picture remains entertaining (when intentionally or otherwise laughable) by the time-worn hackneyed comments of stock figures. You can depend on the TV newscaster to ask his cameraman, "Is my hair OK"? before going live to the scene of the action. As the police chief (in an election year of course), Ray Liotta can be counted on to challenge the more rational hostage negotiator (played by Robert Duvall), urging that the police take out the perp rather than continue to try to reason with him. Best of all, we can count on James Woods, who elicits smiles if not laughs from the audience by his mere presence, to add considerable humor to a tense situation by cutting loose with the only witty dialogue in the picture.

If nothing else, "John Q" expands on Bernard Golberg's book "Bias," which purports that the media have a liberal bias. HMO's are in for a licking: we learn that they will pay bonuses at Christmas-time to doctors who refrain from testing their patients. Why? Tests can discover problems, and problems must be treated, and treatments will cost the HMO's money. Kudos to producers Mark Burg and Oren Loules for nailing these hard- hearted insurance executives for being cheap. Then again, maybe there's something to be said for cutting corners to save money: is that why the film was shot largely in Canada rather than filling the coffers exclusively with the Chicago locale of the action?

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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