Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chris Evans Goes Grunge: Puncture

Would you hire a tattooed barely functioning drug addict to litigate a major anti-trust case? Mike Weiss made A Civil Action’s Jan Schlictmann look like a corporate clock-watcher. He got better results too, despite burning out spectacularly. His tragically flawed character is portrayed with intriguing nuance, whereas his final case is presented in the most manipulatively simplistic terms possible in Adam and Mark Kassen’s based-on-a-true-story Puncture (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Weiss is something of a junkie savant, whose drug fueled benders produce flashes of legal brilliance. He and his more conventional partner Paul Danziger get by on a combination of ambulance chaser and referrals from Houston wheeler-dealer Daryl King. The latest cast-off from their connected friend’s firm involves a nurse, Vicky Rogers, who contracted AIDS from an infected needle.

Through Rogers, Weiss and Danziger meet her mad inventor friend, Jeffrey Dancourt, who developed a safety syringe that would prevent future accidental needle sticks. Yet, hospitals are unwilling or unable to buy it. Evidently, the group purchasing organizations (GPO) designed to give health providers greater buying clout are only interested in buying from their cronies.

Not surprisingly, Puncture ignores the obvious irony that Obamacare is ostensibly built upon the same principle of greater economies through fewer purchasers that is supposedly so nefarious in GPOs. It is not big on irony in general, presenting Weiss and Danziger as earnest legal crusaders, even as the former sinks further into a drug-induced haze. In fact, the film’s greatest moment of clarity comes from a sympathetic senator, who bluntly tells the increasingly erratic Weiss his cause is just, but he is so toxic, she could never invite him to testify before her committee.

Chris Evans does manic grunge shockingly well, conveying Weiss’s descent with compelling honesty and directness. Who knew he had it in him? If Puncture were more Lost Weekend and less Silkwood, it would have been a much more effective film. Instead, we have to sit through lectures from Michael Biehn’s “Red,” a character who seems to exist only to explain how awful plastic syringes have been for the third world. The film is practically like Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, yelling “no plastic needles.”

Despite the film’s determination to play it safe, Evans gets some distinctive support from Marshall Bell as the socially awkward Dancourt and Brett Cullen as the silky smooth corporate attorney Nathaniel Price. Unfortunately, co-director Mark Kassen proves to be fairly middling on both sides of the camera, coming across dull instead of memorably nebbish as the second banana, Danziger.

In Puncture, Evans proves he can carry a film otherwise saddled with a by-the-numbers predictability. While it might be an important film for his professional development, it is not something movie patrons need to rush out and see ASAP. A so-so outing in nearly every other respect, Puncture opens this Friday (9/23) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.