This week in movies you missed: Captain America crusades for our nation's health care workers and snorts lots of blow.
What You Missed
OK, it's not Captain America, just Chris Evans, the actor who plays him. In this fact-based drama, which premiered in New York last fall, Evans plays Mike Weiss, a young Houston personal-injury lawyer who fights for underdogs and enjoys recreating with hookers and drugs.
When a pretty nurse (Vinessa Shaw) tells Weiss how she was infected with HIV by an accidental needle-stick — one of thousands of similar accidents each year — he takes up her cause. An engineer (Marshall Bell) has invented a "safety syringe" that can only be used once, preventing such incidents. But a powerful cartel of medical supply manufacturers holds American hospitals in its grip, leaving him no market for his device.
Over the objections of his more practical partner, Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen, who also codirected with his brother, Adam), Weiss helps the inventor file a David-vs.-Goliath antitrust suit. But will his messy personal life get in the way?
Why You Missed It
Puncture only made it to five theaters and grossed less than $70,000, despite some respectful reviews.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Puncture is a strange mishmash. For the first hour, it feels like the filmmakers set out to graft the amoral flamboyance of Scarface onto Erin Brockovitch. In the early scenes, Weiss is presented as an awesome, enviable dude — a hunky legal genius who gets all the chicks and knows how to party. As the film progresses, it starts treating its protagonist's drug habit as an actual problem and suggesting that he has serious, underlying issues. (He can't commit but is terrified of solitude, etc.)
By the end, we're asked to see Weiss as a martyr to a good cause, pure and simple. (This depends on a piece of dramatic license for which the film offers no actual proof.) So the film — dedicated to Weiss — comes off as a mixture of hero worship and gritty character study. It all makes more sense when you learn that the real-life Danziger, Weiss' friend and partner, executive produced and cowrote.
Clearly, this was a labor of love and an attempt to get a little-known story out there. But the direction and pacing are shaky. More important, Evans just isn't the right actor.
Don't get me wrong; the big lunk can act. He brought humor to the Captain America thing, not to mention doing a funny cameo in Scott Pilgrim and this funnier GQ profile. But is Chris Evans really up to the sort of role you'd usually cast with a charismatic-slimy-bastard type, like Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel or James Woods?
Among younger actors, I could see Joseph Gordon-Levitt bringing complexity and credibility to the Mike Weiss role. But Evans just brings a strapping physique, a healthy complexion and some scowling. He isn't terribly plausible as a coke fiend (who also shoots up) or as a legal genius. He feels woefully inadequate in a scene where the nurse talks about dying; his broad reactions clash with Shaw's understated, heart-breaking performance. The film can't get past that.
Verdict: Puncture taught me that reusable plastic syringes spread disease (not just in American hospitals but, more devastatingly, in Africa) and that this issue hasn't been resolved, because of cost, and may never be. The message sticks with you; the movie doesn't.
Also New on DVD This Week
- Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (remake of the horror cult classic)
- The Guard
- I Don't Know How She Does It
- I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive (teen becomes obsessed with his birth mother in this acclaimed French drama)
- "Justified," season 2
- The Last Lions (family doc from National Geographic)
- "Mildred Pierce" (Kate Winslet in the award-winning miniseries version)
- Shark Night (sharks! college students! but no 3D)