Patch Adams

1998, Movie, PG-13, 120 mins


Shamelessly contrived and sanctimoniously manipulative, this is yet another assembly-line vehicle for Robin Williams and his wild-man-with-a-heart-of-gold shtick. Based on the story of real-life West Virginia physician Hunter "Patch" Adams, director Tom Shadyac's film has good intentions, but they're all buried beneath a two-hour avalanche of squirm-inducing cliches. Williams is as subtle as a jackhammer in his portrayal of the idealistic Adams, an ex-mental patient turned medical student who believes that humor and an emotional connection with the physically and mentally ill help improve their "quality of life." Not surprisingly, his rebellious theories -- it's 1971, after all -- anger his stuffy medical-school dean (Bob Gunton). Williams' scenes with children in a cancer ward are touching, but his class-clown antics -- playing with a skeleton, stealing hospital supplies and constantly yammering about his theories -- are so annoying that after a while it's hard not to side with Patch's pompous roommate, who scolds him for "making my [studying] effort a joke." Screenwriter Steve Oedekerk's script (based on the real-life Adams' book) is laden with enough platitudes for a political convention ("All of life is a coming home"), and the predictable nonconformist-vs.-the-establishment story supplies no dramatic tension. Nearly every character -- the ice princess who melts under Adams' charms, the evil dean, the avuncular professor who protects him, the crazy genius who inspires him -- and every plot device is hopelessly hackneyed: When tragedy strikes, Adams stands on a hillside, railing at God, but when he turns around and sees a butterfly, he's inspired to keep fighting. Williams isn't really playing Adams: He's once again playing himself, and the act is getting tired. And in the end, the trite script and Williams' maniacal yet maudlin performance trample over Adams' legitimate arguments against uncaring doctors and greedy insurance companies. leave a comment --Steve Noveck

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