Medical, legal drama a downer
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Oct 21, 2011
"Puncture" is a boilerplate David vs. Goliath legal drama, hopped up by the fact that one of the heroes is a functioning drug addict.
But that's okay. The courtroom side of the story needs a little somethin'-somethin'.
Though based on fact - a little-known case involving efforts to get hospitals to adopt safety needles, thereby eliminating accidental needle sticks - it's weighed down by lazy, lawyer-movie cliches. The legal strategy is mapped out, for the benefit of the camera, on a giant dry-erase board covered with a flow chart, newspaper clippings and Post-it notes. There's an intimation of a shadowy, possibly even murderous, conspiracy. Someone even says, "I'll see you in court."
The rest of the writing, by Chris Lopata, isn't much zingier. Lopata's meat-and-potatoes script is based on a story by Ela Thier and lawyer Paul Danziger, the non-drug-using half of the real-life underdog legal team. In the film, Danziger is played by Mark Kassen (who directed "Puncture" with his brother Adam). Kassen plays the part as a straight-laced, risk-averse nerd, and there's a conservative, play-it-safe tone to the movie.
More adventurous is the casting of Chris Evans ("Captain America: The First Avenger") as Paul's pill-popping, pot-and-crack-smoking, coke-snorting, mainlining partner, Mike Weiss. The part, which pushes Evans about as deep into the dark side as he has ever gone, has the potential to produce some real acting, at least from a real actor. Unfortunately, Evans feels a little underweight for all the heavy lifting the role requires. He has Mike's quickness and nimble mind down - and his natural, laid-back charm goes part of the way toward explaining how he manages to hide his addiction - but the monkey on the character's back ultimately proves too much of an acting burden.
Evans spends so much time with junkie business - sniffling the coke head's chronic sniffles, and acting manic - that it's a wonder Paul never notices his partner's problem. Everyone else in the movie does - not to mention everyone in the movie theater. Evans works so hard to look like a drug addict that it undermines the character's effort not to look like one.
That's a tough line to walk, and Evans isn't up to the task.
The film, for its part, is also at cross purposes with itself. Evans is the film's one big name. This ought to be Mike's story. And for a good long time, it feels like it is. But in the end, it really belongs to Paul.
Much of "Puncture's" drama comes from the contrast between Mike and Paul's styles. Mike's the sexy, self-destructive and tragic one. Paul's the cautious, methodical - and, finally, heroic - one. When all is said and done, Mike proves to be not only peripheral to the main thrust of the movie, but a drag on its momentum.
Contains obscenity, drug use, nudity and sexual references.