Crazy As Hell

2002, Movie, R, 113 mins

Review

CRAZY AS HELL
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ER star Eriq La Salle's feature-directing debut is a psychological thriller that doesn't really hold up if you think about it too much, but is nonetheless highly entertaining in a low-budget, David Lynch-ian way. Its premise — that Satan (or is it merely somebody claiming to be Satan?) has checked himself into a mental hospital — is pretty nifty. And more to the point, it gives La Salle a wonderfully juicy role; he's both scary and funny as Old Nick, sometimes at the same time. It's a shame he didn't give himself more screen time, and when was the last time anyone said that about an actor-turned-director? Instead, the film's central character is Dr. Ty Adams (Michael Beach), a famous but unorthodox psychiatrist who's been hired to run the aforementioned mental institution during the month-long stay of a documentary filmmaking team. The filmmakers, led by Parker (John C. McGinley) are recording everybody's every move, and have a hidden agenda that may not be in the hospital's best interest. Somewhat predictably, asylum administrator Dr. Delazo (Ronny Cox) has trouble with Adams's no-drugs approach to therapy. But the real problem, of which Delazo is unaware, is that Adams is having spooky visions of his dead wife and daughter, and while it takes a long time to learn how they died, the revelation is well worth the wait. Enter, after too long a buildup, La Salle as the impeccably dressed man who would be Satan, who enchants the other patients — the usual Fellini-esque assortment of oddballs — and transforms the film into a cat-and-mouse transference game/duel of wills, in which Adams seems to be descending into madness himself. There's more, of course, including a surprise ending reminiscent of other, better movies, like JACOB'S LADDER (1990) or THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). But La Salle's film is quite handsome, in a California-noir sort of way (it was shot on high-definition video, but you wouldn't know it) and the acting is impeccable — Sinbad (of all people!) is terrific in a straight role as an orderly who seems oddly needy. As a director, La Salle manages to sustain a mood of looming menace almost throughout, and as an actor he gets the film's best joke: When his Satan fills out his hospital admission form, he gives his social security number as 666. leave a comment --Steve Simels

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