John Q

2001, Movie, PG-13, 118 mins


A problem picture that says all the right things and does all the wrong ones, this melodrama about a desperate father who'll do anything to save his sick son's life is an uneasy amalgamation of DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), DESPERATE MEASURES (1998) and MAD CITY (1997). John Quincy Archibald (Denzel Washington) and his wife Denise (Kimberly Elise) are hardworking, church-going people, and loving parents to nine-year-old Michael (Daniel E. Smith). Times are tough: John's hours at the factory have been cut back and Denise's car has been repossessed because they missed a couple of payments in favor of the rent. But faith and love are getting them through until disaster strikes: Mike collapses while playing, and tests reveal a seriously enlarged heart: Without a transplant, the bubbly youngster is doomed, and John's insurance won't cover the $250,000 surgery. Hotshot cardiologist Dr. Turner (James Woods) sympathizes, but says his hands are tied by hospital rules. Hospital administrator Rebecca Payne (Anne Heche), a bitch so brittle that even her eyes look as though they're about to crack, says that unless they cough up the cash, the Archibalds will have to take their child home to die. After they've exhausted every avenue and come up short, John snaps: He takes Dr. Turner and an emergency room filled with the inevitable cross-section of humanity hostage. As police converge on the hospital, a sympathetic crowd gathers. Hostage negotiator Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) tries to defuse the situation, grandstanding police chief Monroe (Ray Liotta) plays to the media and ruthlessly insincere TV reporter Tuck Lampley (Paul Johansson) tries to manipulate the unfolding human interest story for the betterment of his career. Director Nick Cassavetes (who has a child with congenital heart trouble) and screenwriter James Kearns appear to have conceived this project, whose title echoes Frank Capra's angry, populist MEET JOHN DOE (1941), in the spirit of classic social melodramas pitting the beleaguered little man against an uncaring system. And the movie's sympathies are unassailable: Of course it's wrong that so many Americans lack insurance or are inadequately covered, that HMOs encourage doctors to save money by foregoing potentially life-saving tests, and that private hospitals protect their bottom lines by diverting indigent patients to public institutions. But the movie's tone and plot twists are so ludicrously overwrought that even Washington's admirably restrained performance (he even manages not to crow the line, "From now on, free health care for everybody!") can't rescue it from its own excesses. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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