medicine man

This doubled-up review was written for The Pointer, the weekly student newspaper at UW-Steven Point, where I secured my undergraduate degree. I tended to write about two films per week, especially since it was so rare the Central Wisconsin theaters provided really interesting titles while school was in session. Sometimes, I strained a bit to find a way to link the films in the obligatory introduction. This isn’t exactly one of the stronger efforts, I’ll admit. February releases provided their own set of challenges.   

It’s hard to fault a movie for having ambition. As dull sequels, idiotic comedies, and one-note dramas fill multiplexes across the nation, it’s very tempting to lavishly praise any film that tries to have a broad scope and handle several different plotline. Sometimes, though, a film can’t reach all of its lofty goals and winds up choking on its own aspirations. In fact, two recent films fall prey to their own ambition and wind up falling flat on their faces.

SHINING THROUGH: Melanie Griffith is probably not who I would have picked to fill the lead role in this new World War II drama about a young secretary who winds up going undercover in Berlin to steal secrets from Nazi officials. With the exception of her spirited performance in “Body Double,” Griffith has always seemed to be a marginal talent at best. Yet, for the first portion of this new film, she’s excellent as a woman who’s seen enough movies to, as she puts is, “know a spy when I see one.” The spy in question is her new employer (Michael Douglas), who dictates letters in code and makes her destroy her old steno pads. The interplay between the two performers in the early scenes is marvelous, as every gruff grumble of Douglas is quickly countered by Griffith’s sunny charm.

The film begins to drift, however, when Griffith becomes the unlikely choice to send behind enemy lines. Griffith still masters the character’s relative innocence, but the cool determination and inner strength of the character are beyond Griffith’s reach. We never see her character become anything more than the sweet girl mesmerized by the world of espionage played out on movie screens.

The people she encounters in Berlin are played by a very talented supporting cast (Joely Richardson, Liam Neeson, and John Gielgud among them), but no one gets enough screen time to leave a lasting impression. Instead, the film sticks with Griffith and plunges her into several underdeveloped subplots that are simply unsatisfying.

MEDICINE MAN: Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco are terrific performers, but even they can’t elevate a film of little substance. Connery plays a scientist who’s secluded himself in a South American rainforest to escape civilization and perform his research in peace. When he stumbles upon the cure for cancer, but can’t recreate it again, he has to request assistance. It comes in the form of Bracco, playing the chief of the research firm that funds Connery’s work.

The film tries to set up an adversarial relationship between the two, but it never becomes more than witless banter and dull arguments. All fascination that might be held by the rainforest of the tribe they live with is completely glossed over, and the opportunity to examine the destruction of this precious ecosystem is squandered until the rushed finale. Director John McTiernan (“Die Hard,” “The Hunt for Red October”) firmly refuses to examine the most interesting aspects of this film with any depth, leaving Connery and Bracco to try in vain to bring excitement to the script’s poorly written exchanges.

With more direction, the film could have mixed sharp commentary with a fascinating search for a lost medical cure. As it is, the only prescription this “Medicine Man” can fill involves provoking sleep.

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