Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Film Guide

NOVEMBER 3, 1997: 

CRITICAL CARE - While screenwriter Steven Schwartz's words never rumble onto the screen like Paddy Chayefsky's did in Lumet's 1975 "Network," there is enough outrage at contemporary managed-health fiascoes here to fill several movies and a couple of op-ed columns. James Spader is a third-year intensive-care resident at a slightly futuristic, money-driven urban hospital, who becomes enmeshed in the legalities surrounding the case of a comatose man being kept alive for his estate rather than whether he has any chance of recovery. Some of the acting is awful -- turn your eyes away from Kyra Sedgwick as a gold-digging airhead -- and a subplot involving Wallace Shawn as an emissary from hell is subpar. But there is the spectacle of Albert Brooks as a doddering alcoholic who runs the ICU, cutting to the heart of the film's concerns behind old-age makeup and with vaudeville-sharp timing. With Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Wright, and behind a wimple and lofting, winged white headgear, Anne Bancroft. (Ray Pride)

SWITCHBACK - Dennis Quaid and Danny Glover ride herd on a mess of suspense film clichs as they hunt down a serial killer who offs his victims by pressing a glinting blade to their groins, at which time the camera pans back to reveal their grimacing faces. FBI agent Frank LaCrosse (Quaid) shows up in Amarillo on the trail of the killer whose latest slick move is the abduction of LaCrosse's son. Meanwhile, a crackers railroad man (Glover) picks up a preppy hitchhiker (My So-Called Jared Leto) en route to the Rockies. There's only so much that good actors can do. While Quaid doesn't manufacture silent fortitude as well as Harrison Ford, there are touching moments, such as a quiet "I love you" to his wife over the phone where he tries his damnedest to hold it together. Danny Glover has much more fun as the crusty-but-chatty suspect, making himself at home in motels, auto repair shops and freight trains. These stalwarts aside, you'd think no one would have the balls to string together so many hackneyed plot devices. But here they come, with "Die Hard" scribe Jeb Stuart earnestly wheeling out the naive babysitter, the brawl in the honky-tonk, the aloof Feds razzing the good ol' boy local police, the fight scene on the speeding train. Best of all, when a burly patron starts choking on diner food... well, let's just say it's a good thing there's an Exacto-knife and a plastic straw on hand. This was Stuart's first screenplay, penned while he was still at Stanford, which may explain why so many scenes take place in a white 1977 Eldorado upholstered with color glossies of nude playmates. Construction of this "very important set" necessitated a two-day photo shoot with Playboy photographer Kim Mizuno using professional models. Nice work if you can get it. With Ted Levine and R. Lee Ermey as "Sheriff Buck Olmstead." (Ellen Fox)


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